Plum Perfect for Fall: A Joy-Filled Dessert Recipe from 1964

Over on Instagram the other day, I posted this photo above of the first Fall-themed dessert to come out of the Vintage Kitchen oven. It’s called Plum Cake Cockaigne and is from the 1964 edition of one of the most popular cookbooks in American history – Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer.

Also over on Instagram, I learned something new recently about cooking blogs and recipe finders. It seems not everyone wants to scroll through a whole entire story in order to get a recipe, so I’m trying something new with this post – recipe at the top,  story at the bottom. You guys let me know how you prefer this new layout.  Time always seems to be so short during these last few months of the year, so if this makes your life (and your cooking experience!) easier please let me know by comment or message and I’ll adjust as you prefer.

Plum Cake Cockaigne

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar (I used brown sugar)

1 1/2 to 3 tablespoons butter (I used 3)

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla


3-4 cups thinly sliced plums, skin-on (about 5 plums)

1 cup sugar (I used brown sugar)

2 teaspoons cinnamon

3 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour. Add the baking powder, salt, and sugar to the flour and re-sift.

Add the butter (Note: The juicer your plums, the less butter you need to add. My plums weren’t excessively juicy so I used the full 3 tablespoons of butter), mashing it up in the flour mixture with a fork, until the entire mixture looks crumb-like.

In a measuring cup, add the egg, vanilla, and enough milk to equal a 1/2 cup of liquid (this was about 1/4 cup milk in my case). Whisk together until these three ingredients are combined.

Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until a stiff dough forms. Spread the dough mixture evenly on the bottom of your pan or baking dish and then set aside. (Note: Irma recommended a 9×9 x 2 1/2 inch pan but I used a round 10″ inch x 2″ inch baking dish and that worked great as well).

Next, thinly slice your plums so that you will have enough to overlap each one in your pan – tart style and then arrange them on top of the dough. This is the fun, creative part! You can make many different types of designs with your plums if you like.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon and melted butter and then sprinkle the mixture on top of the plums.

Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until the top is bubbly and brown.

Our plum cake was so bubbly I couldn’t help but take a little video of it as it was coming out of the oven!

I recommend letting the whole thing cool before slicing and serving it if you prefer to plate it in wedge-shaped slices.  Since the top layer carmelizes it is easier to slice when it is in a  cooler, more solidified state.  If you’d rather eat it warm, right out of the oven,  simply scoop it into a bowl and enjoy. Serve it on its own, with a dollop of whip cream or a bit of vanilla ice cream and taste the season unfold in all its cinnamon sugar splendor.

What is really fun about this dessert is that it is like two sweet treats combined into one – half tart and half cake. Because there is only one cup of flour and one egg, the cake part is very thin and the fruit arrangement on top is very much like a tart, so this turns out to be a light and less filling alternative to two traditional desserts yet retains all the lovely flavor of both. Plums don’t get as much attention in the Fall as apples and pumpkins in the baking department, but they are still in season until the end of October, so they make a lovely unexpected seasonal dessert.

That’s Irma on the left and her daughter, Marion on the right. 

Plum Cake Cockaigne (pronounced caw-cane) was a favorite recipe in the Rombauer household. The word cockaigne was a term of endearment in the cookbook and was tacked onto various recipes throughout the Joy of Cooking as a way to signify the absolute personal favorite recipes of the Rombauer clan. Derived from old French, cockaigne literally refers to a mythical land of plentiful luxury, comfort, and peace. Such a dreamy notion of an ideal paradise was so charming to the Rombauers it was also the name they chose for their country estate.  How fun!

The 1964 edition of the Joy of Cooking came out two years after Irma died, the first edition to be edited, revised and enhanced by Irma’s daughter, Marion and Marion’s husband, John. Not without its own dramas, this edition needed all the cockaigne it could get. The first printing of the 1964 edition was published without Marion’s final approval, which meant that various inconsistencies and typos were present. This drove Marion crazy, as she wanted to really honor her mother’s work and keep up with the trusted reputation that the Joy brand had accumulated over 30 years since its debut in 1931. So the 1964 edition went through several reprints in order to right all the wrongs that Marion doggedly corrected herself. You get a sense of the enormous responsibility and weight of the legacy that Marion felt surrounding the whole Joy endeavor from her dedication at the beginning of the book…

The edition that is available in the shop is the 1967 printing of the 1964 edition, the one that Marion was finally satisfied with. All of this devising and revising is a real testament to the dedication of the Rombauer family. One that started with Irma way back in the 1930’s and still continues through present family generations today.

Irma’s launch into cooking stardom is a fabulous story, one that we’ll discuss later on in the month as we celebrate her birthday on October 30th. For a woman who wasn’t known for cooking skills when she first started writing a cookbook, she certainly has proven her abilities time and again over the past 80 years. Stay tuned on that front.

In the meantime, there are a couple of weeks left to enjoy plum season. Hope you “fall” in love with this recipe as much we did!

Find the cookbook in the shop here and a link to our Instagram account here if you’d like to keep up with daily doses from the Vintage Kitchen.

Cheers and happy baking!


15 thoughts on “Plum Perfect for Fall: A Joy-Filled Dessert Recipe from 1964

  1. How fun to see this recipe! I’ve made it a million times, though with peaches (another option mentioned in the book). You’ve inspired me to try it with plums. One thing I like about old recipes is that often they call for much less sugar and fat than the newer ones. Tastes have changed, I guess.
    Fun post. Your photos are gorgeous as always!
    P.S. My old Joy of Cooking is white and rather beat-up. Does not look as beautiful as yours…..;)


    1. Oh Karen – how fun to make it with peaches (a very Southern twist for sure!). In the 1964 edition, Marion recommended guava, which is coming into season in November, so that will be a fun fruit to try too. I agree – less fat, less sugar and more satisfaction. You must have the 1970’s edition of Joy? That cover is white with gold lettering. Well-loved cookbooks are the best – little characters all in themselves. I bet yours is a beauty too. It’s always fun to dive in and explore the different variations between each edition. Those Rombauers – they sure know how to make cooking interesting. Thanks for stopping in – it was lovely to hear from you.


      1. Yes, mine is white with gold lettering. A little fragile, because I dropped it once. My version also mentions the possibility of guava, which I never see at the store and would have no idea how to use. It comes into season in November? Will look for it. How do you tell if it’s ripe? I know nothing…….;)


      2. That’s a great edition! Yes, guava season runs November – April. You might be able to find it at your farmers market or a specialty fruit or vegetable store in your area. Sometimes our local International market offers it. Guava grows in the warm US States – Florida, Texas, California and Hawaii so any store that offers fruit from those places might have it. Keep me posted if you find it (and try it!).


  2. My absolute favorite cookbook, mostly because of Irma’s comments and style. I have a 1930s edition that was my mom’s–the spine is flapping and it’s full of stains and notes but I love it so.


    1. How fantastic that you have a 1930’s edition – one of the firsts! Cookbooks in that condition are the best. Considering that it is almost 100 years old and is a family heirloom that has been passed down makes it a true well-loved treasure. Old cookbooks are such characters in and of themselves. How exciting!


  3. First I will say that I don’t think it matters where you put the Recipe. If folks have reached the point where they are too lazy to scroll down a page, it is a sad state indeed. I don’t always read every word. It depends on the story. But, I love the pictures, and they tell a story of their own.
    Next, this is my favorite and still go to cookbook after over 40 years of cooking. I got my first copy (White cover) as a Wedding Shower Gift. Lost that one in a flood. The next one I lost in a divorce :-}
    My current copy is from the early 1990s I think. I truly believe that something was “lost” in each update, that with cultural change and the requirements women have for speed and ease these days, tradition was cast aside for convenience. Still miss that first Joy, but it remains my favorite in all its iterations.
    Thanks for the lovely recipe and the remembrance!


    1. Oh thank you so much Gwen for weighing in on the recipe placement. It is so helpful to hear your perspective. I love how your different volumes of Joy have been in and out of your life. Even though each physical book doesn’t stay forever, Irma seems to keep finding her way back to you in one way or the other. That is serendipitous! I agree with you about cookbooks evolving over time for lack of time. I think women were just as busy 50 or 100 years ago but expectations were different and home cooks were really in charge of properly feeding their family well-balanced meals which takes a lot of thought and preparation. Just the other day I was speaking with another blog reader about how recipes in general these days are much more geared towards flavor than balanced nutrition which was always the fundamental building block in so many old cookbooks. In January we will be discussing more about this topic on the blog, so stay tuned on that front. Glad you liked the recipe. Hope you make it and love it just as much!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have a few old copies of The Joy of Cooking as well. I still go to those when I am looking for an easy recipe that I know works just the verify what I think about any given cake or pie. I so enjoy your blog by the way.


  5. Thank you for another great post. I’m looking forward to the one about Irma later today! About the scrolling, I prefer the story before the recipe. It’s easier to find and scroll to the recipe than it is the story. I also prefer to read the story before I read the recipe. You could put a page marker/anchor where the recipe starts, and then people who only want the recipe can click directly to it with no scrolling. But this is a BLOG. We’re here to read your stories/writing. I can find recipes anywhere. Your writing is what is wonderful and unique here, and it’s what should be showcased up front. The recipe is just a bonus.


    1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on the recipe placement. What a great idea to put a put an anchor where the recipe starts. I’m gathering from people’s messages both public and private that the recipes are fine at the end of the post, so I think we’ll carry on with that plan. Glad to know that you are in favor. Thank you so much for your kind words about the blog stories. I’m so glad you love them too.


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