Thursday, September 24, 2009

Plum cake and propriety

Recently I cooked a birthday dinner for two GFs. Dessert was one of my specialties, a simple and sublime plum cake, right in season. I brought it to the table to slice and serve.

GF #1: "Oh, just a tiny piece for me. But I'll take a piece to take home and one for my mother, too. (Her mother lives in this city but
not with GF #1.)

GF #2: "A little piece for me, too. And I'll take a slice home for later. Normally I don't even like fruit."


Girlfriends, this is graceless behaviour. Just because you indulged when enjoying the other courses, your satiety does not entitle you to demand your dessert, plus additional servings, for later.
Your host may offer it: "Please take a piece to your mother", but it is at her discretion. A dinner cooked for you is not owned by you, nor is your host running a takeout counter. Where did this 'taking it for later' behaviour come from?

I fulfilled their requests. But those women are not getting a hot meal here for a good while.


When I told Le Duc (who is visiting his family in Quebec) he said, "Mal élevé" which translates to "badly brought up" or as my mother would say, "raised in a barn".

Anyway, here is the plum cake recipe. It's from Craig Claiborne, published in the New York Times at least 25 years ago, and it is incredibly easy. I've also made it with apples or peaches- any fall fruit is good, but the little prune plums, with their intense flavour, give a slice of heaven. I use cultured unsalted butter. Whether you package portions "to go" is your decision.

Plum cake

Serves 6-8

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup sweet butter

1 cup unbleached flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking powder

pinch salt

2 eggs

14 plums, pitted and halved (Italian prune plums)

Sugar, fresh lemon juice, cinnamon


1. Cream butter and sugar; add flour, baking powder, salt, eggs, Beat well.


2. Spoon batter into 9" springform pan. Place plum halves skin side up on top of batter. Sprinkle plums with sugar and lemon juice depending on sweetness of fruit. (Usually about 1 Tbsp of sugar.) Sprinkle with about 1 tsp. of cinnamon.

3. Bake at 350F for one hour. Remove and cool.

Serve warm or at room temperature, as is or with whipped or ice cream.
If you freeze it, defrost and reheat briefly at 300F.

55 comments:

Frugal Scholar said...

Is this the famous Marian Burros plumcake that has been published a zillion times? I've been meaning to make it for years.

Hmmmmm. I am embarrassed to admit that I've exhibited this bad behavior. I will definitely have to rethink. I have very bad instincts about such matters, I am sorry to say.

Duchesse said...

Frugal: It is Craig Claiborne's recipe. Behave as you choose- I'm describing the impression this behaviour makes on me, but I was reared under certain rules and attitudes.

Nancy (nanflan) said...

I think your friends' mistake was not to ask for the extra piece but to assume that they could just have the extra piece. "Oh I'll just have a little piece...this is delicious! Could I ask you a big favor. My mother would love this. Could I possibly ask you for another piece to take to her?"

The difference is minor on the surface, but there is an acknowledgment that you're doing a special favor for your guest.

Or better yet, your guest could have waited for you to offer the extra slice to take home first.

The recipe looks great, by the way.

Duchesse said...

Nancy: Frugal Scholar once called me "stern" and she is SO right! No matter how 'pretty-please-for-my-mother" I would view that request as poor manners.

Deja Pseu said...

Ooh, this looks delicious!

I was brought up that one did not ask one's host for anything, other than directions to the bathroom. If the host/hostess offers something, one is free to accept or decline, but never ask.

I've been taken aback a little bit when someone visiting my home asks "can I have one of those cookies?" or "do you have something for Little Jimmy to snack on?" (Little Jimmy being 2 years old and picky as hell.)

mom huebert said...

Could this be a sort of "restaurant doggie-bag" mentality? Not a good attitude in a friend's home....

Tricia said...

I think this behavior stems from people eating more in restaurants than in private homes. One of my dinner guests asked for "water with lemon," which was not one of the beverage options I offered. He got plain water, as I had no lemons handy.

Duchesse said...

mom and Tricia: Think it is 'restaurant behaviour' but I'd expect these two women to know the difference. And my mother would never ask for a doogie bag in a restaurant- the rare times I do that, I sense her tsk tsk.

Pseu: I'd no doubt cave for a request for something for a 2 year old. Recall one woman who visited with her yojng son, to whom I offered orange juice. "I'll have apple juice", he said, "Malcolm, orange juice is what is offered" his mother said. Good job.

dana said...

Yeah, pretty tasteless. I can't think where they'dve got the idea this is ok, except for maybe other occasions where the hostess said something like, you must take some home, I can't have it in the house or I'll eat it all myself! Which I'm guessing you didn't say.

metscan said...

I have grown up with the belief that you only get one portion of dessert ( children are allowed a second round ). I have never heard that someone asks for a piece for their m o t h e r ! If I´m a guest, I´ll settle with what is being served.

Mardel said...

Hmm, I've been told I was far to serious and "uptight" but perhaps stern applies as well, since I completely agree on this one.

I too was brought up to believe that one should not ask one's host for anything except the bathroom, and that there was little room to declnie hospitality either. One could decline an offer of second helpings, or decline alcohol for water lets say, or decline a food that one was actually physically allergic to if one could do it nicely without making it to obvious. One could certainly not decline dessert after a meal, or ask for it later. The idea that if one cannot be gracious one should just stay home is deeply imbedded in my psyche.

With friends it is simple enough not to ask them back for a while, till memory has softened. Family is another matter. I am still working on how to deal with step-children, whose manners I find appalling, and whom I must invite. Luckily DH agrees about their manners -- it was one of the child-rearing issues in his first marriage.

I would make an exception for a two-year old, but then I would probably be polite to any guest no matter how much I might rail against them in the privacy of my bedroom at the end of the day. My own 2 year-old grandson however is happy to accept whatever is offered without making requests, although he is happiest if he is given a choice between two items. His mother however is not so gracious.

Mardel said...

Oops, I meant decline.

Vix said...

I think they may have been trying to be polite, actually--you'd gone to the trouble of making a cake, but they only wanted a "tiny" piece which might seem insulting. Hence the reassurance: "I'll take a piece home for later."

Perhaps a more common mindset amongst people who grow up in a family where food = expression of love?

I have to admit the "and could I get a slice for my mother" is pushing it, however!

see you there! said...

In our family we make a very similar cake but call it "kuchen" (German). My favorite fruit topping is pears with a few anise seeds sprinkled on - try it sometime.

Rude guests! However, if I bake a traditional birthday cake for a guest then I always offer them whatever remains of the cake to take with them as I feel it is "their birthday cake". That doesn't apply to any other desserts.

Darla

Maggie said...

I agree with Mardel. If it's a food alergy then OK. You went to the trouble of making this wonderful cake. They should have had a generous slice. And what better compliment to the chef than to have seconds!! As to asking for a piece for later or someone else...well frankily I'm stunned by that one. Mal eleve is correct. These behaviors are shaped by mothers when er are just children.

Anonymous said...

Now I wonder what the worst problem is - the absence of manners when asking for dessert, or possibly making invited guests feel bad.

I guess you have to weigh the cost of dealing with bad mannered guests versus being the bad mannered host.

lagatta à montréal said...

It is odd behaviour, though among close friends we all typically divide things up so nobody gets stuck with a huge amount of something leftover that will just wind up going into the bin. But that is the hosts' decision to make.

Where I do take issue with traditional good manners is if they will lead to waste. One example would be not having the right to decline (dessert for example, or more than a bite of a foodstuff one simply hates) and another the doggie bag issue, though that does depend on cultural practices and norms.

I don't like "distinction" based on the ability to waste.

Those little dark prune-plums are called "susini" in Italian; isn't that a pretty name?

Belle de Ville said...

Your cake looks delicious, thank you for posting the recipe.
Like Deja Pseu, I was raised not to ask for anything from the Hostess...mal eleve indeed.

Duchesse said...

Anonymous: That's why i said nothing: I did not wish my guests to be ill at ease.

Darla: Yes, it's a kuchen.

Maggie: I don't mind if people decline dessert (as forcing food on guests is not appealing to me). It's the 'for later' and a piece for someone not there that I minded.

Vix and lagatta: I'm not insulted by people's capacity- requests for small portions are fine. I have a family who will take care of any leftovers- in fact, two sons hoping there would be some left.

It is really not a matter of cake, is it?

Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP said...

Interesting behaviour - and not something I've ever experienced here - I'm wondering if it's because of the doggy bag culture in North America (Canada too?) that people expect to have the leftovers?

We're not allowed for health and safety reasons to take leftovers home from restaurants here (and the serves are nowhere near as big either), so there is no expectation.

s. said...

I do ask for doggie bags at restaurants; it's terrible to let left-over food be thrown in the garbage instead of feeding me the following day. However, I am amazed by how often guests' requests push boundaries not just of formal manners (it's not someone's fault if they were never taught which fork to use, for example) but common decency.

I invited a girlfriend over for a tasty lamb dinner last fall and she requested that I only buy the lamb from a particular store that sells ultra-organic meat. I did so... but the cut (for 2 people) was shockingly expensive.

I waited 6 months before inviting her to dinner again. This summer, I invited her and her boyfriend, but -- knowing how picky she is -- asked her to bring the fish that I would prepare. This time, she arrived at the meal 2 hours late. Her explanation: she had tried to buy the fish at the ultra-exclusive store, but figured it was too expensive, so had to go to several other stores before finding fish (non-organic!) that cost what she wanted to spend.

She will not be invited to my house again.

Duchesse said...

s: i agree that waste is undesirable. That guest- unbelievable. Beyond bad manners- the worst sort of entitlement.

Le Duc invited a couple to dinner; the man informed him he only followed the "Eat Right for Your Type" food combining program. Le Duc said, "Then I believe you would prefer to eat at home". I could see from the man's wife's face that she was appalled at her husband's behaviour.

Duchesse said...

Imogen: I am not sure what you mean by "interesting behaviour- is it unknown to you, and therefore interesting because of its novelty? I think the North American servings in popular restaurants are too big; it seems to be a cultural norm. We don't serve guests that much food- smaller portions are appreciated and second servings are offered.

s. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Duchesse said...

s: Thank you. People might wonder about your reply to Anonymous; you read the second post before I deleted it.

I do not engage with this type of comment.

Toby Wollin said...

OMG -- How did you know I had a whole bag of plums in the fridge with no clue of what to do with them? I'm printing this off NOW. As for the guests - as my mom used to say, "Consider the source" and 'not well bred'.

Duchesse said...

Toby: Please let me know how it turns out!

metscan said...

Another thing ( manners ) : I don´t talk with food in my mouth. I try to take smallish bites, so that I can swallow them quickly, if I need to take part in a conversation during a meal. However, I notice people, regardless their background ( doctors, lawyers, business, people young and old ) speaking with their mouth full of food. How do you feel about this? BTW, I think that asking for the doggy bag, spoils any restaurant evening.

Anonymous said...

I am the first Anonymous...I made no further comments.

I have never had a guest make such requests for a dinner I have made or planned to make. As a diabetic however, I do ask about food allergies and any other food problems.

Christine

Duchesse said...

Anonymous/Christine: Thanks for the clarification.

metscan: Talking with a full mouth is uncouth. Period.

The doggie bag issue is more complex for me. I'd rather not do it, so either order the lightest first course or only the main course in North American restaurants. On the other hand, there is the matter of waste. (I am grateful that ever more people are thinking of the implications of wasting food.)

In restaurants here, the waiter often says, noticing the plate, "Shall I wrap that for you"? If it is half of a steak, I will take it- but that is rare (no pun intended.)

This week I dined at a French restaurant that offered confit de canard, one leg or two. I hope this two-sized serving option is a trend that catches on!

Completely Alienne said...

The recipe sounds absolutely lovely. I shall buy some plums tomorrow to try it.

I do ask for doggie bags at restaurants sometime because Attila will often only eat half of her pizza and I hate the thought of waste. If I take it home she will finish it the next day. I would never dream of asking my hostess for a supply to take home though! If it was a lovely dessert I would be delighted if I were offered it, but I wouldn't ask. That is just bad manners.

metscan said...

This doggy bag thing really bugs me. I know that I take it too literally. I actually have 2 big dogs at home waiting, but would never/ever consider giving them the leftovers. Dogs have their own food and restaurant food is too spicy. I simply can´t imagine myself stuffing my leftover beef ( and by the way I´m a vegetarian ) in my clutch and keeping it there for the rest of the evening or even for a short time, or walking home with a doggy bag. But I am concerned with the leftovers, and I think that the restaurant could, for example, ask in beforehand if you want a small/medium/large dish, just like they ask how you wish to have your beef done.

Duchesse said...

metscan: Many restaurants here pack leftovers in takeout containers.

Re portion size, besides the s small/large options, some restaurants also offer appetizers in a slightly larger size as a main course, and one has a menu section called "For Small Appetites" - bravo!

Of course at buffets, you can take the amount you wish- and for that reason I've never seen a buffet restaurant (or buffet service at lunch) allow a doggie bag.

A local organization called Second Harvest collects uneaten food from buffets (and restaurants in general) for immediate delivery to hostels and church food programs.

metscan said...

Thank you for replying. Our restaurants, excluding Pizza Hut ( same concept everywhere, no doubt ) and some other pizzerias, don´t pack the leftovers. Maybe some might, if asked, but we don´t ask. I think that it is a nice act from the restaurants to send what they have left to the needy. Having read the comments here, I see the culture differences. Interesting.

crunchycon said...

I have nothing to add around the "doggy bag" thing; I think we're all in agreement that it was pretty horrifying (is that too strong a word?) behavior for a guest in your home.

Having said that, thank you for posting the recipe. I'll definitely try it before the plums go away completely around here.

Duchesse said...

crunchycon: Funny thing is, five friends came for dinner last night, and I served this cake again. One had read this post and told the others, "Whatever you do, do NOT ask to take a piece home"- she was teasing me.

Anonymous said...

This whole discussion does suggest a question: Is it good manners to use a public forum to castigate your friends, wrong though they may have been?

metscan said...

Wow, so many comments on this subject! I believe in good behavior and good manners. I believe that a person has a right to his/her opinions. However, we all are responsible for our acts. I refuse to think that all this writing here was meant to hurt someone in special.

Duchesse said...

Anonymnous@9:12: T

If my friends read the post- which I considered before I wrote- our longstanding friendships will absorb that. They certainly take me on about things I do!

I've learned a great deal from commenter's perspectives- an examination of how manners, expectations, and social behaviours are formed, and am grateful for the range of opinions.

I take accountability for what I write.

Anonymous said...

I was really asking a different question: even if they never saw the post, does it display good manners to use a public forum in this way -- i.e., to criticize your friends for bad behavior?

Duchesse said...

Anonymous@11:45

Public forum? Really, I am flattered.

Anonymous said...

The internet is a public forum.

Duchesse said...

Anonymous, A blog is only as public as its author allows.
The author can disallow
anonymous comments, make the blog available only to invited participants, or moderate comments, only allowing posting after his or her approval.

Commenting anonymously is something I allow, but I'm thinking of changing that, as the only abusive comments (towards me or other commenters) have been given anonymously, every time.

Anonymous said...

My fellow anon:

If the author of the blog wrote this entry out and e-mailed it to her friends, that would be rude.

If the author went out of her way to make clear (without using names) the particular guests, especially knowing some of her friends read the blog, that too would lack civility.

I read this article as Duchess trying to feel out alternate opinions, and gauge her future response by that. I am not in the target age group, and while I can see how the requests for take-home food would have come across badly (I’ll keep that in mind when I next go to visit a friend…) I would never have thought twice about taking home a doggy bag when out for dinner. I rarely can finish restaurant portions. Perhaps this is a demographic thing, but then I was brought up in a culture with people who might well die of hunger before eating food somewhere they didn’t trust, or outside of their home at all.

Of course, I would be unlikely to ask a friend to serve me meat from a specific, high priced butcher. You just never know about other people.

Glossy.

Anonymous said...

I did not mean to make a comment that anyone would construe as abusive. In a column devoted to good manners, I thought it was a legitimate question.

Anonymous said...

Dear Duchesse - I have been reading your blog for over a year now and I have been greatly encouraged by your style and wisdom. I can't help but feel your reaction to your friends' behaviour is out of character. I'm wondering if there is more going on, either within that group of friends or in your life that means you may feel people are asking too much of you or taking too much from you. Friendship is such a gift, would you consider letting your friends know how you felt and give them a chance to make amends? Sarah

Nancy (nanflan) said...

Back for a revisit, man interesting points of view!

I think some of the examples of bad behavior are much worse than what your friends did. S's friend comes to mind--that person simply has no idea of hospitality. If one wants a special cut of meat from a certain place, one should be the host not the guest. That person is a bumpkin, pure and simple.

And Le Duc's friend with the food combining program--your husband's response was the best!

I used to participate in a program at my church called "Dinner for 8" but stopped after too many annoying experiences with participants and their special requests. It simply took the joy out of the dinners for me.

Too bad, there is something special about hosting a dinner in one's home that isn't the same in a restaurant. However, I'll do restaurant meals vs. being treated like a short-order cook.

Duchesse said...

Anonymous@7:03: I did not identify your specific comment as abusive. Becasue you do not sign your posts, NOR do abusive posters, there is no way separate you for the others anonymous posters.

However, since you are inquiring about manners, my request of you and all anonymous posters is that they sign what they write with a name, even if they choose the anonymous post options.

Duchesse said...

Sarah: Thanks, and yes, I've been digging under my feelings about the incident. In the case of one guest, there IS more. In the case of the other, not.

I chose to not let them know how I felt in the moment to maintain a pleasant atmosphere. Will I do so later? Not sure. Some things that are a big deal in the moment recede, and if we made an case of every incident, friendships (and marriages) would be hard to sustain.

I don't expect perfect behaviour from anyone, including me. At the same time, I wanted to point out how (in my view) we have come, as a culture, to behave in ways that our parente or grandparents taught many of us were not considerate.


So perhaps the real question is how to address behaviour (such as a guest's requiring meat to be bought at a certain store) that we feel crosses the line into the arena of demanding, entitled, selfish or inexplicably weird, while maintaining a relationship.

Duchesse said...

Nancy: Last weekend, five friends were here several days ago for dinner. One had read the post and told the others. One felt the request was OK, the others not, and when I served this plum cake again, they ALL had fun making requests for doggie bags.

Requesting food for people not present, or extra portions, I still deem graceless, but not worthy of banishment. Minor compared to others' examples, which I appreciate.

One of the guests in the Plum Cake Incident has not, in over 10 years of acquaintance, invited me for a meal at her home. She invites me to restaurants (where I pay for myself). Her reason: "I like to be free to spend my time with my friends, not rushing about serving."

Duchesse said...

Nancy: I meant to say "extra portions 'TO GO"- I am happy to offer extra portions at the table.

Karen said...

Taking it for "later" comes from the basic hoarding instinct hard-wired into human brains. If we hoard food, we for sure know where our next meal is coming from. We know we won't get too thin or too weak to fend off our enemies or go berry picking, or mate.

Maybe your GFs just knew how much better that plum cake you made was going to taste on the SECOND day, and they couldn't resist the temptation to ask!

Duchesse said...

karen; Your analysis led me to realize how many of the conventional "good manners" we teach children (don't take the last piece, don't begin eating till everyone is served, don't take more than your share) are attempts to override self-interest, which I suspect is rooted in survival instinct.

Our ancient brain wiring and 21st century etiquette are out of sync.

rb said...

I don't think I've commented on your blog before but I enjoy reading it and particularly enjoyed this recipe, as I have a plum tree!

I, too, wondered whether your friends read this. I see you have answered that.

I wonder what you think of this "potluck" thing. I don't invite people to dinner often but when I do, I plan to make the whole dinner. However, guests always insist on bringing something - "let me bring the salad, or at least the dessert." I usually refuse the first time, but if they press it, then I would feel rude refusing. So then when I am invited to dinner at someone else's house, I feel like I should insist on bringing something. Beyond a bottle of wine, that is. We are all parents of small children, so maybe the idea is to share the cooking burden, I don't know. The whole thing makes me uncomfortable!

My favorite though is when someone brings a salad or dessert and then takes their own leftovers home. Seems even odder to me.

(Or the vegetarians who want to lecture the table about animal abuses while we are eating the pork tenderloin....)

Duchesse said...

rb: Thanks for commenting! The guests I mentioned do not read blogs, and I considered the possibility before posting. If they do, I'm prepared to face the plum cake music.

Re people bringing courses: with young children, it's a lot of work to entertain. I'd welcome a cheese, dessert or salad course. The purpose is to gather and enjoy one another's company.

Pure potlucks- where you never know what turns up- scare me. Too many dishes featuring cumin. And if the person is an indifferent cook, I'd rather have the bottle of wine.