Zwetschgen and the end of summer in Germany

Here in Baden-Württemberg the school year begins again this week. While my children are not yet school age, we’ve been enjoying rituals associated with this time of year: a last visit to the Freibad (outdoor public pool), buying closed toe shoes for autumn/winter and picking Zwetschgen (Italian plums) off of friends’ trees.

Before I moved to Germany, I had never seen a Zwetschge. Plums had always been round, more like smaller nectarines, with varying shades of yellow flesh and yellow or purple skins. In Germany, I first encountered these elegant, deep purple, slender ellipses hanging low on a tree on Jahnstrasse, the street of my first flat. It was August, my second month living here, when I would gingerly step around the squashed and whole pieces of fruit at my feet, wondering if they were edible. It took several late summer visits to the Bäckerei till I realized that the word Zwetschgen was synonymously used with the word Pflaumen (plum) and that the tree on my street was in fact a Zwetschgen tree.

Now that the Zwetschge has entered my life, I have been searching for ways to keep her there all year around.

The first way I enjoy my Zwetschgen is over Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake), my favorite German tradition. Typically split open, pitted and embedded in a batter of sugar, flour, butter, egg and milk, the Zwetschgen are baked with a Streusel (crumble) topping creating the Zwetschgenkuchen. Here in Schwabenland, they also bake with yeast a lot, so the local recipe is often with a Hefeteig (yeast batter). (Interestingly enough, when I googled “Zwetschgenkuchen,” I was surprised to find English language recipes under this name instead of solely in German.)

This year, a friend with a Zwetschgen tree in her garden invited my daughters and me to participate in making Zwetschgen jam when her Zwetschgen were ripe. We started by picking the fruit and then after washing, pitting, and slicing them open, we made two variations. One was a traditional jam while the other was something between a compote and spread with a surprise ingredient: chocolate! See recipe below:

Chocolate plum compote

  • Chop several kilos of pitted Italian plums.
  • Spread on a baking tray.
  • Sprinkle a tablespoon of ground cinnamon and a tablespoon of ground cloves.
  • Sprinkle 500 grams of jam sugar.
  • Bake in a preheated oven at 170 degrees C in the middle of a convection oven for two hours.
  • Do not stir or disturb the fruit while baking. If at any point it seems that the fluid is drying up, end cooking.
  • Remove from oven and place 25 g of baking chocolate at two corners of the baking tray.
  • Once the chocolate is melted, stir to gently combine the juices, fruit and melted chocolate.
  • Place in scrupulously clean and sterilized jars and seal shut.

It’s delicious and has been my solution to “preserving” one of my favorite flavors of late summer in Germany all year around.

Guten Appetit!

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