Eating (and drinking) Plums: Part I

Plum juice. Told you it was an unrealistic color.
Plum juice. Told you it was an unrealistic color.
Blanched grape leaves ready to be made into doulmas
Blanched grape leaves ready to be made into doulmas
A view from one of Cafayate's vineyards
A view from one of Cafayate’s vineyards

“I’m going into the village,” said Maud, “Maybe you can make something with these plums. They are a little bit too mature.”

We had just arrived at Finca Utama, Maud’s homestead, to WWOOF. Our knock at the door around 2pm on a Thursday afternoon woke her from a nap and her greeting had been to tell us that and give us a staccato tour of her gardens in which we stopped to weed each one for a few minutes before moving on to the next. A few hours later the sun was starting its long slow descent and the air was a bit “fresher” as she puts it.

“What would you like us to make?” I asked.

“Oh I thought you might know something to do,” she said as she swung onto her bike, basket of plums secured to the back.

“Oh okay sure. We can make something.” And off she went into town, leaving us to invent a recipe for plum crisp. They come out a brilliant fuchsia because of the pigment from the skins. We just made our third one today. It tasted slightly alcoholic. I think we left the plums out for too long before cooking them.

The batch of plum juice in the fridge is also starting to get a bit fizzy and is also a shade of pink in which the little girls of Cafayate, or perhaps the young mothers who dress them, would delight. If it looks sickly sweet and artificial though, it’s fooling you. The flavor is tart, the texture thick, and it makes for a perfect mixer.

A few days after our arrival, on Sunday, we were having guests for dinner and Maud suggested using the plum juice for a “lawn drink”. Having grown up in Holland, learned English from television there (according to Maud, subtitles are illegal in Holland and that is how all of the children perfect their English), and moved to Cafayate in the 70s while fleeing the Bolivian dictatorship (and falling right into the Guerra Sucia); Maud speaks English far better than I speak Spanish, but false cognates and mistranslated Spanish idioms pop up now and then. The lawn drink and the dinner provided a much-appreciated project. Maud told us when we arrived that she has a pretty regimented schedule that includes waking up early to work in the cool hours of the morning, taking a siesta during the hottest part of the day, and squeezing some more work in for the evening. Thus far though, we had yet to experience a day that matched that schedule and had only barely managed to wring any instructions from her about what she wanted us to do when, for example, we got up around 8 as per her schedule and she did not rise until noon. Or, alternately, we woke up to find Maud and her bicycle gone with the latest batch of plums to sell.

The dinner guests, a young American couple who had moved to Cafayate to start a Montessori school, meant that we had dinner to make at the very least. It also meant, we hoped, that Maud might purchase some groceries. Her kitchen was well stocked with potatoes and onions that she had received as barter for her plums, and also with various grains ranging from quinoa to wheat berries, but not much in the realm of vegetables.  On the menu for dinner were stuffed grape leaves (Everyone in Cafayate has at least a few grape vines, and Finca Utama actually sells its organic artesenal wine), olive tapenade (from Maud’s homemade olives), fruit salad from Lindsey and John (with fruits other than plums!), and whatever we concocted from the plum juice. Danny and I had awoken early to do some excavating in the compost, a project that Maud had mentioned the day before. After lunch we siesta-ed like the best of them. Around five I found Maud outside.

“Is there something we can do to help get ready for dinner?” I prompted.

“What time is it?”

“Only five, but I know you said they might come earlier since they’re American”

“Oh yes.” Maud showed me how to select the more tender grape leaves and gave us the most specific set of instructions she had yet, about how to start preparing for dinner. Then she set off on her bike again.


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