Plum Pie Recipe Remains a Fall Favorite Decades Later

In August 1983, Marian Burros published her plum pie recipe in the De Gustibus column of the New York Times. It was just one more in a series of weekly installments she had been doing for years.

This particular column, unlike most others, has taken on a life of its own. The plum pie recipe and first-hand account of his fondness for it became one of the most popular and requested recipes ever published in The Times.

Burros is an award-winning food writer, cookbook author and columnist. His life as a food writer began in 1969 with a recipe column in the Bridgeport Telegram. Plum pie, despite his impressive career and work, is probably his most well-known dish. With just a handful of everyday ingredients and a few ripe seasonal fruits, the magic happens. The simple recipe is easy, delicious and impressive, while its timeless elegance is easily adaptable.

Cream the butter and sugar, incorporate the eggs, flour, baking powder and salt then pour into the saucepan. Top with plum halves and bake for about an hour. That’s it!

It looks a lot like Ellen’s Rotten Fruitcake, a recipe Marsha’s friend Carol gave us a few years ago. Despite its unfortunate name, it’s a tasty and easy way to move along excess fruit that can accumulate during harvest season. Ellen’s cake doesn’t have the same success as Marian’s. I guess names matter.

It is said that Burros is still making pie at home in his retirement. Before the early fall plums come into season, she cooks them with blueberries or peaches in turn.

The recipe for the pie was published every fall until 1989 and has reappeared occasionally since then. It’s an impressive 39-year track record with no end in sight. In recent years, updated versions have suggested a little less sugar to lighten the calorie load (no butter adjustment) but specify that it is the baker’s option. It’s a good idea to taste the fruit and adjust the sugar accordingly.

In her 1983 column, Burros was so thrilled with the recipe that she made dozens for the freezer, trading tortes for storage space with her friends. She wrote: “I fell so in love with this delicious, homey recipe that when plums were at their lowest between late August and October, I would make half a dozen pies and freeze them. They were especially appealing on a raw day in February, briefly reheated in the oven to bring out the scent of cinnamon and bring out the flavor of butter, eggs and plums.

I could do the same.

An abundance of dark purple plums from Woodland Farms at the New Canaan Farmers Market means it’s time to break out Marion’s recipe.

It only takes 20 minutes to measure the ingredients, bring the dough together and sprinkle the top with cinnamon sugar. The tempting scent of the oven perfumes the house. As the pie bakes, the plums release their juices, letting the flavor soak into the cake. The sprinkle of sugar on top adds a bit of crunch but nothing as heavy as a streusel. An even distribution of half-dollar-sized plum halves means nearly every bite includes fruit.

When it comes out of the oven, the plums sprinkle the surface of the cake. As they cool (as they should), they sink into tart puddles of concentrated flavor that mark the top. I can picture these divots holding a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, but it’s just as delicious unadorned.

I can’t take credit for the success. Compliments go to the farmer for the perfect fruit and to Marian Burros for a foolproof, time-tested recipe. I just did the mix.

Frank Whitman can be contacted at [email protected]

Michael M. Tomlin