The local stone fruit season is winding down. Even as it does, the farmer’s markets are loaded with the last burst of gorgeous peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums. I can’t resist!
Often, I buy more than I can eat. “Fruit to a good home” is my motto. Local tree-ripened fruit, however, has a limited shelf life. Unlike supermarket fruit, which seems to take forever before ripening, the local stuff is good for just a few days. Even with fruit for breakfast and as a snack during the day, as well as Marsha’s delicious peach cobbler or plum tart for company, there always seems to be some fruit on the counter gathering a cloud of fruit flies.
Our friend Carol came to visit from Cape Cod and rescued me from my excess fruit dilemma. Pie plate in hand, she came through the door saying, “I had more plums than I could eat, so I made Ellyn’s Rotten Fruit Cake.” It was an ah-ha! moment for me. Here was a solution to my over-abundance of fruit.
“Oh yes,” Carol explained. “If I have too much fruit that’s going to spoil, I whip up this cake and throw in the fruit. It’s very easy.” She described the batter recipe and promised to write it down. “It works for lots of fruits,” she said, “plums, peaches, blueberries, nectarines – anything with some juice, but not too runny. And, of course, not really rotten!”
The cake was irresistible (despite its unfortunate name) with its good buttery flavor, golden brown top, and slices of plum throughout. In Carol’s experience, it’s traditionally made in a pie pan. For her recipe, visit www.FranksFeast.com.
Her recipe calls simply for flour, sugar, butter, eggs and ripe fruit. A few others I found added spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. They’re all pretty loose, allowing for freedom to experiment and season to your personal taste. Some even suggested dried fruit or chocolate chips.
With the recipe in hand, Marsha whipped up a batch with some Hudson Valley plums that had been forgotten in the back of our frig. The bottom formed a slight crust, making the cake sturdy enough to eat by hand, although a fork is recommended. The texture, somewhere between a pound cake and a muffin, was punctuated with chunks of the plums. A plain slice was great, and ice cream was good, too. I think a little whipped cream would gussie it up just enough.
I did a little digging and found a tradition across the country for a cake, often called Rotten Fruit Cake, to use up excess fruit. A few generations ago, this was a bigger problem than now. Before efficient refrigerated transportation, when all fruit was local, the season was short and overwhelmingly abundant. The problem was even more pressing if your own tree was making ripe fruit faster than it could be used. In those days, some fruit was eaten fresh, some was canned, and some used for pies. But there was always some not good enough for these uses, yet too good to discard. That’s where the cake came in.
Rotten Fruit Cake is not the kind of recipe you’ll find in a commercially published cookbook. More likely, it will come up in church cookbooks, club compilations, or family files. Harking back to a more frugal era, it’s now mostly handed down from mother to daughter or passed friend to friend in home kitchens.
These days, there is a resurgence of interest in canning and jam-making to preserve the best of late summer, but this recipe is great for the fruit that doesn’t make the cut – a little bruised, slightly too soft, or blemished – it all works in the cake.
With another option at hand, I feel free to indulge in more glowing late summer fruit. Soon apples, crisp tart and juicy, will be the only choice. In the meantime, before the stone fruit season ends, Rotten Fruit Cake is here to soak up my extra.