Named for the dense woodlands of tall and mighty oak trees in the 19th century, come summertime, I sometimes wonder if Oakland should be called Plumland instead. Most of those original oaks are long gone, cut down to make space for the growing city, as pavement invaded the landscape like a thicket of unrelenting weeds. Now it seems like the dominant flora comes in the form of plum trees.
Sprouting along sidewalks and leaning over backyard fences, as if peeking out to say hello to passersby, they go largely unnoticed through much of the year. Just another leafy plant, unremarkable from the next, you might never notice their silent invasion… Until summer hits.
Like the flip of a switch, buds blossom and transform into fruit overnight. Suddenly, fruit begins pelting the streets below with splatters of tiny plum grenades, painting them with a sticky patchwork of yellows, reds, and purples. Even for those with a voracious appetite for the juicy stone fruits, it can feel like a plum-pocolypse, or plum-demic this year, I suppose.
Friends from all corners of the city have been foisting their excess upon me at every turn. Make no mistake, I’m not complaining about such kindness; it’s a truly wonderful problem to have too many locally grown, organic, impeccably fresh plums. I just sometimes kick myself for accepting another five pounds or so, while I still have at least as much threatening to over-ripen in the fridge.
After making a few rounds of plum jam, peppered plum sorbet, a luscious brown sugar plum crisp, Plum Good Crumb Cake, and indulged in untold plain plum snacks, I turned to my reliable Facebook family for help. Suggestions poured in as fast as the fruit, but what really stood out was a suggestion from Craig Vanis, Chef and founder of Austin’s one and only Bistro Vonish. Drawing inspiration from his Czech heritage, he offered plum dumplings (Svestkove Knedliky) without missing a beat. Never having experienced sweet dumplings before, the mere concept was a revelation to me. I had to try it.
Butchering his recipe right off the bat, I wasted no time mangling every last ingredient until it would be completely unrecognizable to any of the chef’s predecessors. My sincerest apologies, Craig. It’s the inspiration that counts, right?
Traditionally made with a potato-based dough, purple sweet potato takes the place of a plain starchy spud for a bit more flavor and of course, a vibrant new hue. Wrapped tenderly around whole plums, it’s soft like pillowy sheets of gnocchi, melting into the juicy, sweet flesh. The pitted plums seemed so empty, so hollow and sad, I couldn’t leave them bare. Refilling the centers with whole, toasted almonds, that crunchy surprise inside added textural contrast to create a more satisfying treat.
For serving, some prefer the dumplings simply tossed with melted butter, while others might add toasted breadcrumbs, poppy seeds, cottage cheese, or my suggestion, cinnamon sugar. Since there’s no sugar in the dough, that sweet finish is just the right touch, especially if your plums have a gently tart twang.
Welcome to Plumland, where everyday is fruitful and the residents are very sweet.