Lately I’ve been on a mission to dry plums. In case you don’t know, dried plums is a polite term for not-so-fashionable prunes. Prunes have gotten such a bad rap and yet when Molly Wizenberg describes them in her wonderful blog Orangette, they sound positively sexy. She uses a recipe for stewed prunes from Edward Espe Brown, the Zen monk of Tassajara fame. I recently saw him giggle his way through the documentary, How to Cook your Life. I can only imagine his delight if he had been talking about prunes instead of bread. Why they’re so funny, I’m not sure except for their, ah-hem, laxative properties. But let’s face it, that’s not always a bad thing. Stewed plums are quite delicious especially in a bowl of vanilla flavored Grace Harbor Farms Golden Guernsey yogurt.
Italian plums are so plentiful on Orcas Island one of the main streets in Eastsound is named Prune Alley. Many of the older homesteads around the island have at least one old gnarly Italian plum tree from back in the days when the islands were the major fruit-producing area in the state. At the Orcas Island farmers market one vendor sold them as “Orcas Plums.” Orcas or Italian, these plums are perfect for drying.
I hadn’t really thought this prune-making project through because I don’t have a food dehydrator and know that sun-drying would drive the yellow jackets wild. Luckily, I found that my convection oven has a dehydrate function. If yours doesn’t have that specific function, don’t let that stop you. Just set your oven as low as it will go and be prepared for it to take a while. Ideally, you start at 120 degrees, make your way up to 150 degrees after the first hour has passed and just before they’re dry (around 14 hours later) end up at 140 degrees. I’m pretty certain the whole process would have been faster if I had cut them in half but I preferred to keep the fruit whole. I used directions from Putting Food By but also saw a recipe in Christina’s Cookbook. She says to simply cut plums in half lengthwise, remove the pit, place skin side down on parchment paper and oven-dry for 10-12 hours at 200 degrees.
If you dry plums whole you’ll want to “check” the skins by dunking them in boiling water for 30-45 seconds. Cool immediately afterwards. As for pitting, I waited until after the drying process to remove the pit using a cherry-pitter. The pit didn’t come out as it does with a cherry but the pitter makes a hole through the prune and then it’s quite easy to pull out.
Once plums become prunes, they can be eaten as they are or re-hydrated with water, Armagnac (a type of brandy) or even black tea flavored with fruit such as Earl Grey, peach or black currant. Before drying, my plums were very sweet and now as prunes, they are still sweet but also tart. I may add a little sugar or honey to sweeten them up.
Here’s a song about prunes I learned as a young girl at camp and have sung many, many times since.
No matter how young a prune may be, he’s always getting wrinkles.
A baby prune is like his dad, but he’s not wrinkled half so bad.
Now we have wrinkles on our face, but pruney has them every place.
No matter how young a prune may be, he’s always getting stewed.