Lightning cake, sloes and plums

Looking for something to do with a basket of plums, I turned to my mother’s old Boston Cooking School Cookbook, whose spine is now made of electrical tape and which has all manner of interesting thing poking out between the pages. In it I found a recipe for Lightning Cake, and the suggestion to add a layer of plums or tinned prunes to the top, with a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar. The batter rises up and surrounds the fruit and it looks decorative and tastes heavenly. Here’s my version:

Lightning Plum Cake
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup milk
3 tbsp melted butter
1/4 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla
about a dozen fresh plums, halved and pitted
juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

  • Beat egg and add sugar; add sifted flour, baking powder and salt; add the milk and melted butter, lemon and vanilla. Pour into a buttered 7×10 pan.
  • Lay the plums cut side down over the top of the batter. Sprinkle with lemon juice, and then with the sugar mixed with the cinnamon. Bake at 350 for about half an hour.

To go with this I’d recommend a poem by Gillian Clarke called Plums (which I have in her 1985 Selected Poems) rather than the William Carlos Williams one (afraid I never did like that poem and found his act of pilferage unforgiveable). Here’s a blog entry with yet another plum poem, by WS Merwin, although I am not sure that sloes are really ever known as night plums; that sounds more like a lipstick shade to me. If I could have laid my hands on any sloes in Victoria I’d have made a batch of sloe gin, which is a strange and unique substance that somehow preserves the pucker of the sloe even after its long bath in alcohol.

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