Prune orchards are found mainly in the central valley of California with the greatest concentration of acreage in Yuba and Sutter Counties just north of Sacramento.
Prune trees require 7 or more years to reach productive age and will produce fruit for 30 or more years. Cultural practices include pruning, fertilizing, cultivating or mowing the orchard floor, irrigating, pest management, and harvesting. Prune trees bloom in March and fruit reaches maturity in August.
Choose prunes that are dark, shiny, moist, slightly soft and nicely plump. Prunes are readily available in most supermarkets, pre-packed, in bulk or in a jar in their own juice. Carefully check the label in the store to see if the prunes are pitted or not, so that you get the kind you need.
It's best to keep prunes in a cool, dry place. You can also store them in the refrigerator, which will extend their storage life. Properly stored, they generally keep for a long time because their high sugar content acts as a preserving agent.
When prunes begin to age, they tend to dry out. Sometimes, simply soaking them in a liquid (water, juice, alcohol, etc.) will restore moistness and softness. Generally, calculate about 6 to 8 hours of soaking time in a cold liquid, and about 30 minutes in a warm liquid.
How to Tell If Prunes Are Damaged
- Hail Damage will show on fruit, look for marring.
- Freeze Damage: The prune will be slightly black and will eventually fall off within a few days.
- Sun Damage: Kind of black because not enough shade or leaves.
Prunes sold with pits should be pitted if you want to use them for cooking or to add to a dish or a preparation. Otherwise, they may be eaten out of hand. Pitted prunes are ready to use.
Assorted Uses for Prunes
Prunes may be eaten raw or cooked. They make excellent compotes when cooked. Raw, they may be eaten as is on their own. They are often added to cookies, cakes, muffins or puddings. They go beautifully with meat dishes and sometimes add a distinct sweet touch to sauces and stuffings.
Word of Warning for Prunes
Don't go overboard on prunes because their very high fiber content gives them laxative properties. In fact, prune juice is the only juice that contains sufficient fiber to have a laxative effect!
Surprise your guests with a different kind of fruit salad. Soak some dried fruit such as prunes, apricots, apple slices and cranberries in an infusion of tea. Add one or two cinnamon sticks, and let soak until the fruits plump up. Remove the cinnamon sticks, drain and serve in attractive dessert cups.
Did You Know?
Prunes are, in fact, dehydrated plums. The type of plum most commonly used is the Agen plum, sometimes known as the Ente plum. Their firm flesh and high sugar content make them excellent candidates for dehydration. It takes about 3 kg of fresh plums to make 1 kg of prunes.
More Facts About Prunes
Total world production of prunes over the past 3 years has averaged just under 300,000 tons with California averaging just under 200,000 tons. Per capita consumption of prunes for the world population amounts to only 7 prunes per person per year. Given the great health benefits of eating prunes -- high in fiber, no fat, rich in vitamins and antioxidants -- a prune per day surely could improve your health!
Prunes Can Replace Fat
You can use prunes to make a puree substitution for oil or butter in recipes.
Just puree about 1-1/3 cups of pitted prunes with 6-tablespoons of hot water. This should make about a cup of prune puree that will keep in the refrigerator for up to one month. Use half the recommended fat in a recipe, and then add half that amount of pureed prunes. For example, if a recipe calls for a cup of oil or butter, use 1/2 cup of oil, the add 1/4 cup of prune puree. You can use this puree in cakes, muffins, cookies -- even brownies.
Ground prunes have a variety of uses in baking and prepared foods, and they are even a key ingredient in baby foods.
Tea Poached Prunes
Made from dried plums, prunes are naturally sweet with a sticky, chewy texture. When you poach them, they become mellow and soft.
20 pitted prunes
2 bags black tea
2 bags green tea
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
Freshly grated zest of 1/2 lemon, or more to taste
Place everything in a small bowl or cup and add boiling water to cover. Let steep 10 minutes. Remove tea bags and let sit at least 2 hours. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 month.
Nutrition facts: Calories: 101, Calories from Fat: 1, Fat: 0.2g, Saturated Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 1mg, Carbohydrates: 26.8g, Dietary Fiber: 3g, Protein: 0.9g
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