Dreaming of Sugar Plum Fairies on the Rolling Plains of Alentejo

May 23, 2012

in Dining,Food,Travel

A narrow wedge of tart, with a thin layer of russet caramelization lying atop and dusted with cinnamon, sat on a stark white plate alongside a modest scoop of ice cream and a mysterious preserved fruit. Sericaia com ameixa de Elvas explained the menu. The dessert was as exquisite as the name sounded. Sericaia is a traditional egg tart from Portugal, where I was visiting. While an egg tart might seem heavy, the inclusion of both whites and yolks lightens the dish as compared to many pure egg yolk desserts. The tart was a perfect choice to conclude a leisurely lunch on the veranda. The rich, eggy flavor played perfectly with the creamy cold ice cream. But, the real treat was that mysterious fruit.

Sericaia com ameixa de Elvas

 

Elvas is in the northeast of Alentejo, a large, warm region that transitions from vast plains in the south to granite hills in the north. Elvas also is home to plump, sweet greengage plums that are deemed so special, they merit their own DOP, or protected place of origin. (This is equivalent to the protected place-names for wine such as Douro in northern Portugal or Bordeaux in France.) Ameixas d’Elvas are harvested between June and August each year. Then, the plums are blanched and soaked for six weeks or longer in sugar cane syrup, a natural preservative from days prior to refrigeration and high-speed transport. After being drained and sun-dried, they are individually selected for packaging. Sugar plums were established as a favorite Christmas-time treat in England after being introduced by Port shippers. Yet, until last week, I only knew this delicacy from experiencing a poorly-staged ballet by Tchaikovsky.

I bit into the Ameixa; firm, but gradually yielding in the way of preserved fruits. The intense but not cloying sweetness was balanced by the refreshing acidity inherent in the plum. This small, simple fruit perfectly complemented the creamy texture of the ice cream and the rich flavor of the tart. The dessert transported one to a time and place far from normal workaday life, causing me still to dream of the sugar plums of the Alentejo.

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