The Tale Of The Bavarian Plum Tart Redux

Early August is a good time for Damson plums, and an even better time for an encore about the Zwetschgendatschi, a plum tart with an intimidating name. Vermont pastry chef Gesine Bullock-Prado says the tart reminds her of her late mother.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Our next story needs a different label because it does have a gluten in it. This classic from our Found Recipe archives also has lots of plums - damson plums.

GESINE BULLOCK-PRADO: They are not like your normal plum. They are not round. They're oval and very dark purple, almost black.

BLOCK: That Vermont-based pastry chef Gesine Bullock-Prado, an unabashed fan of damson plums.

BULLOCK-PRADO: The flesh is this lovely olive green when they're barely ripe. They're very firm and tart and just these lovely little - lovely little orbs of joy.

BLOCK: But they're not just little lovely orbs of joy. Damson plums are also the key to today's Found Recipe. It's a summer dessert - a favorite of Gesine Bullock-Prado's late mother. And it's called...

BULLOCK-PRADO: Zwetschgendatschi.

BLOCK: One more time?

BULLOCK-PRADO: Zwetschgendatschi.

BLOCK: A Bavarian word for plum cake.

BULLOCK-PRADO: I grew up half German and half - I call it Alabamonian. My father's from Birmingham, Alabama. My mother was an opera singer and met my father in Germany while he was stationed there. My mother, Helga, was fantastically funny and vivacious. And she would wear leather pants to PTA and always wore fake eyelashes because she was so used to wearing them on stage that she was always kitted out in the most glorious, zany clothes that the PTA moms just - they were totally awed and frightened by. And her name was also Helga, so that was frightening in and of itself. Zwetschgendatschi was the dessert we always had in the summertime. It looks like a flower in full bloom. It's gorgeous. The way it's traditionally made is on a sheet pan, so it's large and rectangular. And you line up the plums like good, little plum soldiers. When we were in Germany we would often go to bakery to buy the zwetschgendatschi, And then we would bring it home for kaffee und kuchen, which is coffee and cake. But in the States, no one made this. So my mom would make it at home, and we'd all share it with some whipped cream - or sahne as the Germans would say. It almost felt like a once-in-a-lifetime treat because it was - these plums were so in the season for only about a week or two. And I remember once in my pastry shop, a few years ago, a man walked in, and he said, I was in Germany during the war. And he has these really fond memories of this cake. And he didn't know the name of it. And I said, that is a zwetschgendatschi. And he said, can you make it for me? I said, yes, I can. And I walked back into the bakery and I thought, you know, this is going to be tough. And it wasn't tough because it's a tough thing to make. The tough part was that I hadn't made it since my mom died. So I was sitting there thinking, I don't want to do this because it'll bring back so many memories, and I'm going to break down in the kitchen, and I'll just look silly to my employees. And when the day came when the plums were available, I made the dough. I pressed it in all very pretty. I put in the oven. I'm like, that wasn't so hard. I did it. And I opened up the oven when it was done after 40 minutes, and that smell came to me. And it was my mother. My mother was in the room. And I started to weep.

(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA MUSIC)

HELGA BULLOCK: (Singing).

BULLOCK-PRADO: I mean, that smell that comes from that cake - it is so specific. And since it was my mother's joy to make in the summertime, it was Helga coming from the oven. The funny thing was is having all these kids come in and just seeing me weeping in front of the open doors of the oven thinking that something must have exploded inside, that I had done something horribly wrong, but when, in fact, I'd done something incredibly right.

(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA MUSIC)

H. BULLOCK: (Singing).

BLOCK: Gesine Bullock-Prado's newest cookbook is "Bake It Like You Mean It." And we're listening to the voice of her mom, the late opera singer Helga Bullock. The recipe for zwetschgendatschi is on the Found Recipes page at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA MUSIC)

H. BULLOCK: (Singing).

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