Zwetschgen are in season again. I saw them at the co-op in the produce section, mounds of purpley black oval plums tucked into petite green pint containers. They were from a local farm. I had to get my grubby paws on a truckload of those bad boys; I had to go directly to the source.
And I thought, “I have to remember the name of the farm.” I kept repeating the name as I did my grocery shopping. I kept repeating it as I drove home. And when I got to work the next morning, I did a quick internet search for the number. Voila, right away I found it.
Full of the kind of jittery excitement and impatience that manifests itself in adult sufferers of ADHD, I called. I asked, “I saw your Italian plums at the co-op, I’m a local baker, can I get a palet for my shop?”
Come on come on, work with me people. “Italian plums? Empress plums? I saw that you were selling them? At the co-op?”
“You mean fruit? Fresh fruit?”
“Yeah, plums. Fresh plums.”
“We don’t got fresh fruit lady.”
“But you’re a farm, this is Champlain Farms, right?”
“Yeah, but we don’t sell fresh nothin’.”
I started to get pissed, I mean, pah-leeze woman! I just called a farm! You messing with me?
Thank ye gods that I caught myself from getting feisty with the poor nicotine soaked woman because it dawned on me that I’m catastrophically stupid. I called Champlain Farms. The Vermont equivalent of Stop-n-Shop, the convenience shack attached to the pump and pay. Where the bathroom’s always out of order. Where the freshest item on sale is a bag of year old kettle corn. God, I hope that lady didn’t have caller i.d.; she’ll know the identity of the moron who just called asking for organic stone fruit from a gas station.
Somewhere between the co-op and home, I’d left my cheese cloth brain on autopilot; inviting any and all invasive suggestions to make cozy nests in my noggin’, replacing the stuff I actually need. Yeah yeah yeah, there’s a Champlain Farms on my way home and I needed gas.
But I still wanted the plums. So I just bought a bunch from the co-op and made zwetschgendatsche, the plum tart of my childhood. My mother’s childhood favorite. Pretty much every Bavarian’s summertime favorite. Not very original of us but it’s a damn sight better than sharing a regional fixation on Ring Dings.
This summer I’m especially needy for a little comfort, with everything going to Hades in a gargantuan hand-basket: the stock market, the housing market, the gas prices, the food prices. Geez Louise, will it just end already. So in times like these, the comforts of tradition and family are a lovely succor, something to bring us back to what’s really important.
And maybe Mary’s feeling what I’ve been feeling, a need to connect with our deepest roots and affections to hold off the waves of dread that come with every second news update. She wrote me about a recipe, one that she couldn’t find. She’s starting to compile the things her mother has made for decades at Christmastime, a way of keeping her family’s traditions alive when so much seems to be failing. I have zwetschgendatsche to bring me to a happy place, even if it means making an ass out of myself in the search for Italian plums. And Mary has a little Italian anise cookie called an Angelonie.
Here’s the recipe, Mary. Go bake some happy.
-1/2 cup butter
-1/2 cup sugar
-3 large eggs
-1 teaspoon anise extract (it's strong. you can use more but best to start with a light touch)
-3 cups all-purpose flour
-1 tablespoon baking powder
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-3 tablespoons milk
-2 cups confectioner's sugar
-3 tablespoons milk
-drop anise extract
And candy sprinkles!
-preheat oven to 325
-Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs on at a time until incorporated. Add anise extract.
-Combine flour, salt and baking powder and add to the butter and egg mixture slowly, alternating with the milk. Mix until you have a wet dough.
-Using a small cookie scoop, scoop batter and then roll it gently in your hands to create a ball and flatten slightly on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Or roll into an oval shape. It's easiest to have your hands a little moist for this process.
-Bakes cookies for about 15 minutes. Do not brown them, they should be light in color and have a cakey texture.
-Mix all ingredients until you've created a smooth paste.
-Either dip the cookie in the glaze once they are cool or gently brush the glaze on a lukewarm cookie. Sprinkle with colorful little sprinkles! ENJOY!