For this challenge, you get to be the detective! Either use clues from multiple recipes to make a composite recipe, or choose a very vague recipe and investigate how it was made.
In search of Plum Puffs…
Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery published 1909
excerpt from Chapter 12 A Jonah Day
Marilla listened to the whole story, and if she smiled at certain parts of it Anne never knew. When the tale was ended she said briskly,
“Well, never mind. This day’s done and there’s a new one coming tomorrow, with no mistakes in it yet, as you used to say yourself. Just come downstairs and have your supper. You’ll see if a good cup of tea and those plum puffs I made today won’t hearten you up.”
“Plum Puffs won’t minister to a mind diseased,” said Anne disconsolately; but Marilla thought it was a good sign that she had recovered sufficiently to adapt a quotation.
The cheerful supper table, with the twins’ bright faces, and Marilla’s matchless plum puffs…of which Davy ate four…did “hearten her up” considerably after all. She had a good sleep that night and awakened in the morning to find herself and the world transformed. It has snowed softly and thickly all through the hours of darkness and the beautiful whiteness, glittering in the frosty sunshine, looked like a mantle of charity cast over all the mistakes and humiliations of the past.
Little did L.M. Montgomery know, those words would send Anne fans into a tizzy to find out just what these matchless plum puffs were! Now for some detective work…
The beginning of the chapter stated that it was the dead of winter. From this I could deduce that if real plums were used in plum puffs, they would have had to have been dried or made into preserves as fresh plums would not have been available to Marilla.
Next I thought I would consult one of my favorite cookbooks. Elaine Crawford and her daughter Kelly co-authored the book titled Aunt Maud’s Recipe Book from the kitchen of L.M. Montgomery. They are related to L.M. Montgomery and had the good fortune to have inherited a hand written recipe ledger written in the author’s own handwriting. They also collaborated with Mary Henley Rubio, biographer of L.M. Montgomery who had access to Montgomery’s journals. If anyone had the inside track on knowing what plum puffs were, or had the actual recipe, these ladies would be the ones!
Aunt Maud’s Recipe Book
I LOVE this book and have devoured it many times from cover to cover and would highly recommend it to any one who is a fan of Lucy Maud Montgomery. This book has much information and recipes of the author’s life beyond Prince Edward Island.
Unfortunately, I found the entry on plum puffs to be a bit disappointing. The recipe included was not written by L.M. Montgomery. It was listed as an offspring of a Green Gable’s recipe from another P.E.I. kitchen. And *gasp* it didn’t even have PLUMS in it! The explanation was that Maud would have called it “mock plum puff” as there were several other “mock” recipes included in her recipe ledger. This had me in the depths of despair! Okay, pull yourself together, time to regain my composure and do more research. Perhaps the word “plum” was used as an adjective and didn’t mean the fruit, after all, plum pudding doesn’t have plums in it either.
Plum is an adjective meaning desirable, and it also denotes the sweet, purplish fruit. The adjectival meaning originated as a figurative extension of the fruit.
The recipe in the book also had shortening in it, I found this troubling. From my research, shortening was just being introduced to cooking about the same time Anne of Avonlea was being published. Prior to that, shortening was used as a tallow substitute for candle and soap making. Marilla was a traditional, conservative woman, she would have cooked the same foods in the same ways her mother, and her mother before her would have cooked. I doubt she would have taken to new fangled notions like shortening very quickly. I went in search of a recipe similar to the one I saw from a historic source that used either butter or lard as I’m sure that’s what have been used by Marilla. Also, I wanted the source of the recipe to be from Canada or the British Isles as much of P.E.I was settled by immigrants from the British Isles and France, and L.M. Montgomery’s heritage was primarily from Scotland. Immigrants tend to bring their tastes of the homeland and methods of cooking with them to a new country.
The recipe in Aunt Maud’s Recipe Book was essentially two layers of biscuit like crust with a filling of boiled raisins sandwiched in between the crusts. What I found when I searched for similar a recipe was a myriad of variations in both names and ingredients. Fly Cemetery, Fly Graveyards, Squashed Fly Pie, Pastry Sandwich, Fruit Slice as well as many others.
Fly Cemetery, Fly Graveyards, Fruit Slice… Plum puffs by any other name?
Click here to read more about Fly Cemeteries.
The “Fly” names had predominantly raisins and/or currants as the filling, or a mincemeat type filling giving the appearance of dead flies. As Fruit Slice or Fruit Sandwich, other fruits or preserves could be used as a filling.
The the types of crust also varied greatly, puff crust, short crust, biscuit, and even shortbread crusts! These were almost all rolled into two rectangles with one crust for the bottom and the other for the top. The top crust could be left plain, or brushed with milk or beaten egg white and sprinkled with sugar, or have a glaze of powdered sugar drizzled or spread over it. Sometimes the edges were sealed to create a slab pie, all were cut into squares or rectangles for serving. These were often eaten out of hand and not on a plate.
Time for a character analysis. Young Davy was allowed to eat four of these confections. The puffs would have had to have been small enough for a young boy to have eaten four, and wholesome enough for Marilla to allow it. As delicious as shortbread for a crust sounds, I believe Marilla would have thought it too rich to allow young Davy to eat four, and shortbread isn’t “puffed”. Short crust wouldn’t have been puffed either so that’s out too. That leaves only the biscuit crust or the puff paste crust.
Now to ponder the filling… it very well could have been just a boiled raisin filling with the word “plum” being used as an adjective, or perhaps Marilla did make use of some of her plum preserves. Davy kept getting into the preserves, jams, and jellies stored in Marilla’s pantry. Several varieties of plums do grow on P.E.I as well as damsons. Marilla being renowned for her cooking skills would have known Damsons were prized for their use in cooking and baked goods.
I decided I would go with a biscuit crust, as it would have been wholesome enough for Marilla to allow Davey to eat so many. I promptly ordered up a couple of historic recipe books that had been published in Canada and Scotland. (Unfortunately, the one from Scotland didn’t arrive in time… grumble.) I was hoping to find a recipe for Fly Cemeteries or one of it’s variations, but had to wing it when I couldn’t find a historic recipe with the resources I had on hand. I also decided I would make both “mock plum puffs” as well as some damson puffs so I could compare and contrast them.
Let’s line everything up…
Since damson plums are out of season and difficult to find as preserves, I ordered 2 jars of Tiptree Jams Damson Conserve from Amazon.com. These were given top reviews and I can see why. It was exactly what I wanted for my plum puffs. Mildly tart, chunks of fruit, rich plummy color…
I then started my search for my mock plum filling. Most of the contemporary recipes for Fly Cemeteries had about 3 cups of dried raisins and/or currants in them, So I used this recipe for Raisin Filling from the Bohemian-American Cookbook originally published in 1915 as a guide. (The version I have is a 1947 reprint.) The composite recipe I created was:
1 1/2 Cups Raisins
1 1/2 Cups Currants
2 Cups Water
Zest and juice of 1 Lemon
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/8 tsp. Cloves
1/4 Cup Blackberry Brandy (I didn’t have wine)
1 tsp. Vanilla
1 1/2 Tbsp Butter
1/2 Cup Sugar
2 Tbsp. Cornstarch.
The raisins, currants, water, lemon zest & juice, cinnamon and cloves were simmered in a covered saucepan until the fruit was soft and plump.
Fruit mixture ready to simmer.
The brandy, vanilla, and butter were than stirred in, and lastly the cornstarch mixed into the sugar is stirred in. Cook, stirring this mixture until it thickens. Remove from burner and cool while mixing up the crust.
For the crust, I used a recipe from this book, The Cook Not Mad; or Rational Cookery I have a facsimile copy with the original being published in 1831.
The recipe I settled on was No. 165 Derby, or Short Cakes.
Pearlash was an ingredient I hadn’t seen before, I thought it must be a leavening ingredient. Click here to read more about pearlash. Seeing ingredients listed by weight was also new to me, so I pulled out my digital scale and weighed things out.
1 lb. Butter (4 sticks)
7 Cups Flour
2 1/4 Cups Sugar
1 Cup milk
2 tsp Pearlash (I substituted Baking Powder, I wish I could have used Rollings Reliable Baking Powder.)
***Currants were left out of the original recipe as a fruit filling was used.
This was baked in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes.
I mixed the dry ingredients together first, and started to cut the butter into this with a pastry blender, but gave up and ended up rubbing the flour into the butter by hand, just like the recipe stated. I created a “well” in this mixture which I poured the whisked egg and milk, stirred it into the dry ingredients, just until barely incorporated. Turned it out onto my marble slab to gently knead it, being careful not to overwork the dough.
This made a very large amount of dough and was just about double the size of the recipe in Aunt Maud’s Recipe Book which was baked in a 13″ x 9″ cake pan, so I pulled out a half sheet cake pan that was nearly double that size.
First, half the dough was rolled out into a rectangle to fit the bottom of the pan. I spread half with the 2 jars of damson conserve, the other half with the raisin mixture.
Damson conserve on the left, raisin mixture on the right.
Roll out the other half of the dough and lay over the fruit fillings. Over the damson half, I brushed the top crust with a frothed egg white and sprinkled it liberally with sugar. This was baked at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. The crust over the raisin half was baked plain and then topped with a drizzle of powder sugar glaze after it was out of the oven.
Egg white wash with sugar on the left, powder sugar glaze on the right.
Just look at the gooey goodness!
Plum Puffs and tea to hearten you up.
Now for the review. The invented recipe turned out quite well. The biscuit like crust turned out to be the texture of a soft sugar cookie. I think we prefered the damson half for both the flavor of the fruit and the texture of the crust the way it crisped with the egg white glaze. The mock plum half was good, but took on the taste of something more akin to mincemeat. The mock recipe in Aunt Maud’s Recipe book didn’t have spice or alcohol in it, but many of the fly cemetery recipes did.
The recipe was quite easy to put together and would have been pretty reasonable cost wise to make if it hadn’t have been for the use of organic dairy products and the imported damson conserve. I cut the pan into 24 generous servings.
I would make this again. I might try a puff paste recipe next time or use other preserves for the filling. I think raspberry would be divine! I would most certainly half the dough recipe and make it in a 9″ x 13″ cake pan as we wouldn’t need such a large pan full .
Day two. Can you guess what I had for breakfast? Yup, more plum puffs. The flavor of the raisin side had mellowed overnight and was quite good, but I still think the plum side was actually better. Just my personal preference.
Are these the REAL plum puffs? No one knows for sure what Lucy Maud Montgomery had in mind when she penned those infamous words. Any combination of pastry and fruit could be considered pretty plum. Make your plum puffs anyway you imagine them to be, (No one will know the difference!) and share them with kindred spirits, whether they be family or friends, and enjoy a feeling of kinship with one of your favorite authors and beloved characters.
*** Hold the press! I am super excited that my cookbook from Scotland has finally arrived! If only itcame a few days earlier… The cookbook is titled The Edinburgh book of Advanced Cookery Recipes. This a 1933 edition that is a compilation of two older cookbooks that have been revised and updated.
The Edinburgh Book of Advanced Cookery Recipes Revised and Enlarged Edition 1933
The recipe I found that rocked my world was 222 Banbury Puffs. The similarity to the fly cemetery recipes and the mock plum puff recipe was uncanny. Two crusts, in this case a puff pastry, with a currant filling with citrus peel, spice & wine. To top it off, it even had “puff” in the name! I guess I was on the right trail after all…
Here’s the crust recipe they recommended.
The directions for folding and rolling the dough for puff pastry are pretty standard.
I will definitely have to make it this way!