There are a few specific things that start happening around the middle of September that signal that autumn has arrived in London. As we are lucky enough to live in a city with so many beautiful parks, the colour change from green to amber makes the seasons so obvious and distinct. As the last few of us return from our summer holidays, we start settling into this new routine of putting on warmer clothes, walking the streets hugging paper cups of coffee and going home earlier at night. Fewer people go to the parks at lunchtime, and almost nobody sits at the once-crowded outside tables of the cafes. We collectively move inside.
For me, it is other small things that mark the beginning of autumn: the arrival of the circus on Peckham Rye Common, the return of schoolchildren to my morning bus journey, the slow drip of Christmas products in to the supermarkets and the complaining about it getting earlier each year. Most of all, though, it is the change in what we begin to cook. Beautiful summer salads, bowls of berries and barbecues give way to a more comforting range of foods: we start to embrace the winter fruits and veg and the stews and soups that protect us from the nip in the air. Comfort food becomes the order of the day.
Plums are one of the most-used fruits in my kitchen throughout the autumn. They start to make an appearance in mid-August, and by September they are everywhere. There are a wide variety of plums available and they lend themselves to being used in a variety of ways. Two of the winter dishes I love best are a plum and hazelnut crumble and a spiced plum chutney.
I had some plums leftover from a tart I made earlier in the week for some friends, so decided to use them to make a plum upside down cake. Some friends on Twitter told me that this is very straightforward to do. I actually feel a little silly writing up a recipe for what is essentially a basic sponge mix poured over some chopped fruit, but it really is an excellent way for using up any fruit you have. Once baked, cooled and turned out, the plums become incredibly tender and almost melt into the sponge, creating a kind of plum jam topping. It would be excellent as a pudding with custard.
Plum Upside Down Cake
3 plums, halved, then cut into thirds
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
225g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour
Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4. Grease a 8-inch loose bottomed cake tin and line the base and sides with greaseproof paper.
Arrange the plum slices in the base of the tin. Try and squeeze in as many as you can.
In a bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until combined. If the mixture looks like it is curdling at this point, add a tablespoon of the flour to bring it back together. Fold in the flour until just mixed, be careful not to overwork it.
Scrape the batter into the prepared tin, being careful not to dislodge any of the plums underneath. Bake in the oven for approximately 40 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin.
Once cool, remove the tin but keep the base intact. If the cake has a dome, cut this off carefully using a serrated knife to create a flat surface. This will be the bottom of the cake. Turn upside down on to a plate or cake stand and carefully remove the base of the tin and the greaseproof paper.