Plum Duff

plum duff

Normally I wouldn’t start a post off with a picture, but “Plum Duff” isn’t really going to tell you much all by itself. And the Wikipedia article will re-direct to “Spotted Dick” and then you’re REALLY going to need a picture. It’s a dessert, people. A lovely, delicious, traditional dessert created by people for whom the term “Spotted Dick” was a fond endearment.

For this recipe you’ll need a few specialty items. I always hate running across that in a recipe I perhaps haven’t read closely before starting out; “You’ll need a flugelhorn!”,  announces the author, brightly. “These days you can find one easily on Amazon!”.  So, advance warning, for this recipe you will need a pudding mold or basin with a lid or cover, a metal trivet to rest the mold on the bottom of a pot, either tall enough to enclose it, or close enough that a collar of aluminum foil will do the trick.

My Great Aunt Margaret’s Plum Duff

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup melted vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 cups cooked prunes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons cold milk plum duff 1
  • Beat eggs well.
  • Dissolve brown sugar in hot, melted shortening and whisk in the eggs slowly, so they don’t cook.
  • Add cooked prunes that have been drained and mashed with fork*.
  • Sift flour and add. Dissolve soda in milk and add last.
  • Fill greased pudding mold 2/3 full, cover lightly and steam one hour over rack in large cooking pot.
  • * This used to be a very messy process – cutting the prunes with a sharp pair of sewing scissors, cooking and then mashing the results. Now we can throw the cooked, drained fruit in the cuisinart and have done with it.

    Now mix in the prunes, add the flour. . .

    plum duff 2

    And spoon the whole mess into the greased pudding mold. Now would be a good time to mention that the pudding is going to be a solid mass in the bottom of this mold after you’ve cooked it and allowed it to cool. It will look like it is solidly glued in there, but no – set the pan in very hot water for a few minutes and then invert over a plate. It should fall right out – if not feel free to repeat the process. It’s not like this stuff is fragile.

    plum duff 4To the left in this photo is my aluminum trivet, useful for keeping the mold off the bottom of the pot. It is stamped “1820 Cincinnati” on the bottom, so hey – an antique! I expect modern trivets would work just as well. Also, please ignore the Goya Black Bean Soup can. I’m not making anything from this product placement – the can was there for our supper of huevos rancheros later on that night.

    I didn’t think I had a photo of the pot with its aluminum collar, but here it is. Evidently I’d thought I’d blog my recipe for huevos rancheros, because there’s all the fixin’s, but thought the better of it. Everybody already has a favorite recipe for those.  But waaayyy in the back there you can see how to make your stew pot a steamer for your pudding mold.

    plum duff 5Steam the pudding at a low to moderate temperature for about an hour. You shouldn’t be able to hear it boiling madly, and check about half way through to see that the water level still comes close to 3/4 of the way up the mold.Add more hot (from the tap) water if you’re getting low. The temperature may drop below simmer for a minute but it’s not going to bother your Duff.

    Cool the pudding in the mold overnight in a cool place, then unmold it and decorate for the season. I used horehound, lavender and geranium because this is Thanksgiving and you can never tell when someone is going to eat the garnish – better to make it all edible.

    Now go check out all the interesting steamed dishes out there, like The Bitten Word’s Persimmon Cake (which they did w/o a pudding mold).

    2 large eggs
    1/2 cup melted vegetable shortening
    1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
    2 cups cooked prunes
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    2 tablespoons cold milk
    1. Beat eggs well.
    2. Dissolve brown sugar in hot, melted shortening and add to eggs.
    3. Add cooked prunes that have been drained and mashed with fork.
    4. Sift flour and add. Dissolve soda in milk and add last.
    5. Fill greased pudding molds 2/3 full, cover lightly and steam one hour over rack in large cooking pot.
    6. Serve hot with Rum Sauce or whipped crea

    2 large eggs

    1/2 cup melted vegetable shortening

    1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

    2 cups cooked prunes

    1 cup all-purpose flour

    1 teaspoon baking soda

    2 tablespoons cold milk

    1. Beat eggs well.

    2. Dissolve brown sugar in hot, melted shortening and add to eggs.

    3. Add cooked prunes that have been drained and mashed with fork.

    4. Sift flour and add. Dissolve soda in milk and add last.

    5. Fill greased pudding molds 2/3 full, cover lightly and steam one hour over rack in large cooking pot.

    6. Serve hot with Rum Sauce or whipped cream.

    1. m.

    Social Capital Owl

    punkin head 001

    Have you read “Bowling Alone”? I’ve had to. And for all the precious white-man’s-nostalgia that fills hundreds of pages of that book and many others, social capital has never been a positive aspect of society for me. The people who yearn for the days when everyone in town knew their middle name were never teenagers in that town. They never had their first boy or their first drunk obsessively reviewed and painstakingly remembered by the entire populace.  None of those people (I’m looking at you, Dr. Putnam) ever question why their ancestors, neck deep in social capital, gave it some distance as soon as they could move West. And they also leave out the fun stuff.

    Five years ago I took down a few young spruce out by the road and left a tall stump, stripped of branches, to put up a birdhouse. Before I could get to that step someone came by and nailed a plastic owl – the kind you use to scare off pigeons from your gingerbread – to the top of the stump. Ever since anonymous owl-lovers have decorated the plastic statue for every holiday. Bunny ears are followed by patriotic bunting, then plastic harvest flowers from WalMart, a Halloween costume (the pirate get-up with miniature parrot was a nice touch) and finally a wreath, Santa hat and red glass ornaments that generally last until the bunny ears come round again. He wore a tiny mortarboard for our son’s high school graduation and occasionally dons sunglasses at the height of summer.

    Last night I came home to find the owl wearing a pumpkin head, and tonight I went out and added the wig. If the VeggieTales made horror movies (and they should) this would be The Bride of Punkinhead.

    When you have real social capital, you can collectively and anonymously make a joke. That’s probably the real test of the concept – can you decorate the local lawn art and not be charged with vandalism? If your neighbor came on your property for the express purpose of putting sunglasses on your owl, would you call it trespassing? If not, you’ve probably got a nice little block party in store. Load up on cider and call everybody  over – it’s a good thing.

    Our Hardy Ancestors, Part III

    birthday 2007

    OHA is a series of posts about how my family ate and behaved around the turn of the last century. They (mostly) survived to great age, and I expect some would have past the 120 year mark if any of them had eaten vegetables. Herewith a “skeleton menu”, copied out by my great, great grandmother and pasted into the cover of The Institute Cookbook for her reference.

    A Full Course Dinner

    Shellfish – on ice with lemon – light oyster crackers, then Clear Soup – in soup plates, half full – thick slices of bread or roll folded in the napkin. Followed by Hors D’Oeurvres – olives, celery, radishes, etc. to be passed after soup is served, then Fish – with appropriate sauce, potato balls and cucumbers if possible. Then the Entree – patties, timable of chicken, or creamed dishes in paper cases (bread passed), then Meat – with appropriate sauce, jelly, potatoes, one vegetable and fruit punch. Then Game – small birds, whole; other in halves or slices with varying accompaniments then Salad – served with the game – Brie, Roquefort orcream cheese and crackers. Then Hot Pudding with lemon sauce; Glace – ice, ice cream or frozen dessert – with sweet wafers, followed by Dessert – nts, fruits, bonbons, crackers, cheese and finally Coffee – black, served with sugar alone.

    The painting is “Jacob’s Birthday”, from 2006. And to think, we only had three courses.

    Bon apetite!

    New Work – The Midway

    smokeys greater shows early morning

    Smokey’s Greater Shows, Walmart parking lot, Ellsworth Maine

    From the Fryeburg Fair Chronicles:

    Bud Gilmore, the show’s owner, explained that when Bud was four or five, his father Ronald had the “largest mare in the world” named Gene which weighed 3200 pounds. They lived on a farm in Bolyston, Massachusetts and showed the mare around rural New England and into Canada.

    “Then shortly thereafter we built a hotdog and hamburger stand, and we traveled with that quite a few years. We had an old truck, and we carried the stand in that. We’d set it up, then my mother and father slept in the truck, and my brother and I slept on the ground. We did that until school started. Then we’d get boarded out, and they’d finish up fair season. Somewhere in the 1950s we built a french-fry stand to go with it, a couple of games, and bingo later on.”

    About 1965 the Gilmores loaned some money to a fellow with a fair route, and when he couldn’t pay it back, they took over the route. They didn’t own any rides at the time; they took care of the bookings, sold tickets, and collected the rents. Then they started buying rides. Their first one in 1965 was a tilt-a-whirl; a brand new one; which cost $22,000. “Now a tilt-a-whirl; of course they’ve improved somewhat, basically the same ride, just a little easier to set up; is around $250,000,” he said. “My father died in 1970 when I was finishing college. We had seven rides then, and I just went out and started running the show and buying more and more rides. Until now I’m at the point I’ve got too many rides. Don’t need them all, but we’ve got about 50 rides now I guess.” What was it like being a young boy working the fair circuit? Gilmore made it sound like an adventure with story after story, but he worked hard, too. He helped in the family’s hotdog stand, hustled soda or popcorn in the grandstand, helped with his father’s games, and found other moneymaking jobs for neighboring concessionaires.

    And on a rainy summer morning I found them all laid out and idle in the Walmart parking lot at nine o’clock on a Sunday morning. I wandered around for a while, trying to make little sketches and samples of the amazing chemical colors, but I gave up and moved to a vantage point farther away. It was just too private down amongst the machinery.  Campers and RVs were scattered around and people were wandering half dressed, brushing their teeth or drinking coffee – I felt as intrusive as I would have been in a stranger’s living room, and moved off to make my observations from a nearby hill.

    Time is but the stream I go fishing in,

    I drink at it, but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. It’s thin current slides away, but eternity remains. Henry David Thoreau.

    My mother moved from a 21 room farmhouse to a four room apartment in 1985. It was in her mother’s house, and she was happy enough to leave her historic, but drafty, house behind but it did mean there was a table, chair, shelf and footstool crammed into every corner. There were corner shelves with little shelves on top of them and piles of candlesticks and tablecloths on every horizontal surface. She managed to disperse some of the treasure and eventually moved to Florida, then to Connecticut and then to Maine. Her home now is a one-bedroom condo. There is no cellar, no attic, no roomy pantry for the thick-walled canning jars that now belong to me. Mine too are the ceramic jugs plugged with rolls of cork and ancient tool-steel knives with antler handles, but surprisingly few table linens. Maybe she thought I had too many of those of my own.

    Yesterday she gifted me with two antique fabric bags, made by her father’s stepmother, also Harriet, but with two “t”s. They are quite beautiful. One is a mourning bag, with an elegant polished cotton finish, very plain except for her initial. The other is a sewing bag with a covered needle case that still contains two steel and one bone needle.

    antique bags 1

    A close-up of the morning bag, and the initial done in outline stitch and French knots. I can never make mine that regular. I took the picture on what my family calls “the red hutch”, between the fruit salver and the green milk-glass candlestick. No wonder I paint still life.

    antique bag 2

    And here is a close up of the sewing pouch. The wool has been damaged by insects – it is very soft and fine and probably delicious, but the blanket stitch has held up well.

    antique bags 3

    So my question is, where does she keep this stuff? Are there bags of weird and beautiful women’s-work hidden under the sink? Ancient poetry books under the sofa? (Actually I know there are some of those.) I can’t wait to visit again. Maybe that’s the point.

    Our Hardy Ancestors II


    You know what all these guys had in common? (Well, besides a gene pool and a fish dinner.)  They all liked cake. And, they all liked bacon. These “Hardy Ancestors” posts are dedicated to recipes that had their best days a lifetime ago, with my great-grandfather (an HA if there ever was one)  at the far left on the sofa. Days when food was abundant if you didn’t mind the lack of variety, and work was hard and long enough that you didn’t. And then there was dessert.

    My father liked a “planned dessert”. I don’t think my mother had ever heard of such a thing growing up, but it was an ongoing topic of discussion at the dinner table all their married lives. A planned dessert implied something thought out and prepared long before the meal: apple pie, butterscotch layer cake or bread pudding studded with raisins and served with hard sauce. The category did not include ice cream, store-bought cookies or instant pudding. Occasionally there would be a recipe that would satisfy both husband and wife – the perfect blend of yin and yang for ingredients, formality and ease of preparation. I give you:

    Cinnamon Bacon Sponge

    1 egg, beaten, 1/2 C sugar, 1/2 C molasses, 1/4 C melted bacon fat, 1/2 C boiling water

    1 tsp soda, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 and 1/8 C flour (a heaping cup)

    Mix the bacon fat with the boiling water. Stir, and when slightly cooled add the egg and sugars. Add to the dry ingredients and mix well. Place into a greased 8 x 8 pan an bake 35 to 40 minutes at 350. Serve with whipped cream.

    I like to add chopped apples or raisins, and I use the pan drippings from our best pepper bacon for extra kick. Bon appetit!

    Our Hardy Ancestors

    AGB really is one of my ancestors.

    AGB really is one of my ancestors.

    The other day I got down “The Institute Cookbook” by Helen Cramp, to look for a particular apple jelly recipe that is, I think, in one of my grandmother’s cookbooks. Helen Cramp’s book was published in 1913, and Martha was born at the turn of the century, so it probably belonged to her stepmother. The recipe used maple syrup as the sweetener and I have so many crab apples this year (and almost nothing else) that I thought I’d give it a try.

    The brittle pages are heavily notated. The neat cursive in brown ink is my great grandmother. She wrote long recipes from memory in the blank spots of the book, and commented on additional ingredients (may use 2 Cups of Rhubarb). My grandmother was born left-handed and forced to switch in school. Her cursive is more upright; larger and uneven. She checked off recipes in the index and made notes about doubling or tripling amounts (more Chili, less Marjoram).  She had four children and hired hands to feed.

    The recipes are a testament to their lives. There are paragraphs on making cottage cheese from the time before pasturized milk, and an entire chapter on Meat Substitutes that would have been handy in 1913. Most of my family members still don’t eat tofu. A century ago they ate Baked Crackers with Cheese, Pimento Roast, Nut Souffle and Migas.

    Now, I love migas. I learned to make migas from Milcolores and I have to tell you, they bear no resemblance at all to the migas in the Institute Cookbook. Well, I guess the same philosophy might run through both like an underground river, but I was highly amused by my kinfolk’s version.


    Soak slices of stale bread and squeeze dry. Put olive oil or drippings in a frying pan and when boiling hot drop in an onion chopped fine, a little groundchili and a pinch of sweet marjoram. Lay the slices of bread in this with plenty of fresh cheese (preferrably goat cheese), finely broken,and fry for about ten minutes (my note – yikes!). Remove to a hot plate; cover with grated cheese, stoned ripe olives and chopped hard-boiled egg.

    I may make a series from the book. Up next: Dried Beans Saute.

    Swan’s Island Library – the Illustrated Page

    The library on Swan’s Island burned to the ground with all its contents on July 24, 2008. It had been recently renovated and the destruction of the town’s community center, Friends meeting place, yoga studio, historical society and library all in one was a great loss. The Educational Society collected the charred pages scattered on the ground after the fire, and distributed them to Maine artists for eventual auction and fundraising toward a new building.

    In the tradition of re-working vellum pages in Medieval Europe, I’ve ornamented my page with gold leaf and vermillion. Stayed tuned for more information on the auction, or check in at the Swan’s Island Educational Society.


    Hattie in the garden.

    hattie-in-the-garden Every once in a while, your mother comes by the garden and it’s a nice enough day to take a picture or two.  We’ve had a cold, wet spring and both Mom and the peach trees have been unhappy with the weather. Finally we had a day with bright sun, a little extra warmth, and a nice breeze to keep the bugs off for a few minutes.


    We admired the new patio and the old Hansa rose – now fully 8′ high and 10′ wide and covered with magenta blossoms. It was one of the first plants I started here when we moved in and the only cleared area was the clay bank at the side of the septic field. What with the wet clay and the north facing slope it was not a terrific site for a rose and it struggled for five years or so. Now that I might be serious about transplanting it to a better spot it has found its feet and tripled in size. There’s probably a moral there somewhere about not planting largish shrubs on one’s septic field.

    We didn’t get much done; although there were plenty of weeds to pull the mosquitoes found us after half an hour or so. Later on in the evening (wearing full bug gear) I went down to the swamp and took a picture of the lupine growing at the end of the driveway. Beautiful stuff in the right light, weeds though they are.


    Three-fold Brownies

    The ingredients

    The ingredients

    This is the first receipe I memorized. I don’t remember how old I was, but I remember reading the original recipe myself, from the pre-War copy of Fannie Farmer that included lots of advice about boiling canned green beans and making individual custards for invalids, that they might seem more appealing.  The proportions have changed over the years, but this remains a very dependable recipe for excellent brownies. It will survive your landlord’s crummy oven that won’t keep a steady temperature and can be baked in any flat pan or even (on one memorable road trip) in a folded piece of aluminum foil reinforced with wet string.

    They are “three-fold” brownies because many of the ingredients can be easily memorized in threes, by a five-year-old girl, for example.

    Melt 6 Tbs (3 x 2) butter with 3 oz. unsweetened chocolate.

    In a medium bowl, beat together: 1 1/2 C sugar (3 half cups) and 3 eggs. There is no leavening in this recipe – the eggs are all you’ve got – so whip this mixture until it’s yellow and airy. Or not, if you’re in a hurry. The brownies will be terrific either way. Stir in the butter/chocolate mixture, stirring as you pour so that the hot mixture won’t cook the eggs. Add 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla (3 1/2 tsps.).  Add 3/4 C flour and 1/3 tsp salt. Before you fully incorporate the flour, add 3/4 C chocolate chips. Spread the brownies in a greased and floured 9″ x 9″ pan. Bake for 30 minutes* at 350 degrees.

    My oven requires about 40 minutes for some reason. You want the top to be shiny and crackled and the insides fairly firm after cooling.

    This recipe will also support a 1/2 C raspberry preserves and 1 1/2 tsp of Kirsch instead of vanilla.

    Eh voila!

    Three-fold brownies

    Three-fold brownies