EVERY YEAR, as autumn’s plums, pears, and sour cherries spill onto the city’s sidewalks and into farmers markets, grocery stores, and roadside stands, hoards of canners emerge, hosting preserving parties and making runs on mason jars. You see, once you’ve discovered the alchemy of turning fresh fruit into jam and sealing it away, every tree seems as tempting as Eden’s apple itself. Come winter, shelves across Portland groan under the weight of plum-rosemary jam, canned pears, and sour cherry preserves.
While this cache of canned preserves comes with a well-deserved sense of accomplishment, it can also challenge one’s culinary creativity. After all, there are only so many PB&J’s a grown-up can eat.
Luckily, Julie Richardson, co-owner of Southwest Portland’s Baker & Spice bakery, mines the deep history of seasonal baking that predates the days of internationally shipped fruit in her cookbook Rustic Fruit Desserts. Co-written with former Wildwood chef and James Beard Award winner Cory Schreiber, the tome is a mouthwatering collection of the simple but luscious heritage desserts of our grandparents’ generation—the cobblers and crumbles, buckles and pandowdies that are full of big flavor without any fussy primping. “We call them ‘rustic,’” says Richardson, “but to our grandparents, they were just dessert—adaptable to whatever was in season.”
Despite their simplicity, many of Richardson’s treats, like this crostata, are showstoppers in their own right. And they make perfect homes for the reserves of preserved fruit lying fallow in your pantry.
In true Richardson fashion, this dessert has deep roots: the recipe was passed down from a friend’s grandmother who learned to prepare it while growing up in northern Italy. The construction isn’t complicated—just a short crust and jam—but it comes together with an elegance that will never go out of style.
RED PLUM & CINNAMON JAM
Makes six 8-ounce jars
2 ¼ lbs red plums
2 ¼ lbs sugar
4-inch cinnamon stick, finely ground in a spice mill
6 full 4-inch cinnamon sticks (one for each jar)
(1) CUT the plums in halves or quarters, depending on size, and remove pits. (2) COMBINE fruit with sugar, groudn cinnamon, and 1 cup water in a large, nonreactive pot or preserving pan. (3) COOK over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring until sugar dissolves. (4) INCREASE the heat to medium- high, bringing to a full rolling boil, and cook until jam reaches its setting point, about 5 minutes. (5) LADLE jam into hot, sterilized jars, adding a cinnamon stick to each one. (6) SEAL jars using the water bath method (pick up Harriet Fasenfest's A Householder's Guide to the Universe for detailed instructions), and label after they are cool.