At the beginning of January I had to attend a week long uni course for a paper studying the creative process. Long days, 13, 15, 18 hours for some groups, in small rooms on hot afternoons. We had spent hours in the weeks leading up to the course thinking on our own creative process; what drives us, our passions, our forms of expression and our greatest influences. During the course we talked with our group, our lecturers and with complete strangers about our crossroads in our lives, our battles with our past or our present. People were desperate for tragedy, for drama, and for darkness; any of my contributions to these discussions were said to be on the lighter side and for that I was made to feel I should apologise.
When most conversations centred on the dark and twisted side of our lives – broken marriages and families, mental illness, lost love ones, destructive relationships – you can imagine I left the subject of food; how we eat, how we grow, how we buy, well alone during that week. What is important to me, what I am passionate about may have raised a few eyebrows, if not elicited a few indignant snorts. But, really, barely a day goes by when I don’t think about what we eat, how we produce and consume food, and how can I, a student in this strange limbo place between university and the ‘real’ world make better, cleaner, fairer food decisions.
This is why I’ve been quiet here recently; I’m figuring out how best to do this, this business of eating. I would like to make radical decisions like completely rid my pantry of white flour and white sugar. I would love to have a no-supermarket policy, except for non-food items. I would like to source some of my food directly from the producer, especially dairy products; raw milk, yoghurt and cheese brought from the farm gate or the farmer at the market. But, like so many things in life, we need to find our own style here – like choosing a car, or building a house, a career, a life with someone; change and decision influenced by personal style. I’m loathe to use this term after my week long uni course, but perhaps I’m at a food crossroads.
So, I start small, the very essence of think global, act local. I love the Sunday farmers’ market for its vibrancy and diversity. There is always a sense of anticipation before going to the market and the often chaotic atmosphere requires focus and a clear head. The market is an affront to the senses but this is preferable to the sterile aisles of a supermarket. I have always loved Moore Wilson’s Fresh for the smell – bottled market place, we’ll call it.
But Commonsense Organics, right next door to Big Bad Wolf, is a new favourite place of mine. There is a feel-good factor to shopping here, even if my purchase is simply a couple of apples or the Little Bird macaroons sold at the front counter in glass jars. There are often specials, show casing the very best of the seasonal produce, which is how I came by a kilo of New Zealand greengage plums.
Google delivered entire articles on the magic of the greengage. This notoriously fickle fruit appears to have a somewhat cult following amongst plum lovers. Their green skins, perhaps with a purple blush across the shoulders, yields to a nectar-like, honey yellow flesh within. I popped a few in my mouth, and felt the skins pull and pucker as the fruit burst and I could taste fragrant honey dew melon then the skin was a slight citric tang at the end.
I roasted most of the kilo, and I think this is the way to go. Their best properties – colour, tang and texture – are given the room to shine. Roasted simply with only butter, honey and the juice from one orange, this is one of those dishes where the whole is greater than the sum of all parts. Butter acts as the base on which sits the sweetness of the honey, then the citrus of the orange hops on board, while the greengages, collapsed and juicy, deliver a fragrant sweetness so typical of stone fruit. Right at the end of a spoonful, just shy of getting caught in your throat, these plums give a shout, a rather tart shout to remind us what we miss come mid-winter – the delightful balance of sharp and sweet.
Something as simple as a greengage plum, a little green orb, is perhaps insignificant to some. But right now, ingredients like the greengage are new and interesting. They re-direct my focus to broader issues such as provenance, seasonality and the efforts of the growers. A bowl of greengages on my kitchen table is something of an inspiration.
Recipe adapted from the Martha Stewart site.
De-stoning the plums might seem like a hassle but is worth the effort. Get into a routine – slice, twist, tug out the stone.
1 kilogram greengage plums
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Preheat oven to 180°C. Place the butter in a roasting dish and put in the oven to melt. Add the honey and orange juice and stir until mixed – depending on the thickness of your honey you may have to place the syrup in the oven before stirring. Add the cut and stoned greengages and carefully mix to cover in the syrup. Roast for 30-40 minutes until beginning to fall apart.
Serve with yoghurt, cream or as a thick compote atop a buttery cake. The plums will keep for up to a week in the fridge but it pays to reheat before serving so the butter in the syrup melts.