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Firstly, what exactly is a Prune?


basically they are fully ripened plums which have been dried to remove most of the water. But not all plums are suitable to be dried into prunes. The most common variety of plum used for prunes is d'Agen. At maturity, they have a deep purple skin and they have a higher acid content and more sugar which makes it possible for the fruits to be dried with their stones intact without fermenting.


Ounce for ounce, prunes contain more fibre than dried beans and most other fruits and vegetables and more than half of the fibre is of the soluble type which studies have linked to lowered blood-cholesterol levels. They are  also  a good source of B vitamins and potassium. They contain the same vitamins, minerals and fibre as their fresh counterparts i.e. plums.


Origins and History of Prunes


In order to talk about prunes, we must touch briefly the raw article i.e. plums Prunus Domestica. This strain of plums is known to have existed since ancient times, and is believed to have originated in Western Asia. Certainly both plums and prunes were well known to the ancient Egyptians as findings in tombs at Thebes proved and a Sumerian clay tablet (2150 BC) describes poultices being made from a concoction of ingredients which included prunes. However it wasn’t until the 12th century, when Crusaders brought damson trees over to Europe from Syria, that prunes began to make their mark in the west.

As mentioned above, not all plums are suitable to produce prunes and it was the monks in the Abbey of Clairac in south-west France, who crossed a damson tree with a local plum, thereby creating a new variety called the Ente Plum which could be preserved for a whole year once they had been dried in the sun. By the early 16th century, plum orchards were flourishing throughout the region and a while after the port of Agen gave its name to the dried fruit of the Ente plum - the famous D’Agen prune.



Production of Prunes


As one would expect, originally Prunes were sun-dried much like raisins, however now they are mainly machine air-dried to obtain a more uniform product. The fruit are allowed to fully ripen on the tree and immediately after they are picked they are washed and dehydrated until the moisture content has been reduced to approximately 21% as this produces the optimum keeping properties.

They are then graded for size, inspected and put into storage to await final processing and packaging. Unlike other processed fruits, most prunes are not packaged straight away but are stored in what is known as ‘natural condition’ until an order comes in, at which point they are sometimes partially re-hydrated and packaged.



Cooking with Prunes


Prunes can be used in sweet and savoury dishes much the same way figs or dates are used. After opening the package, reseal it as tightly as possible or transfer the prunes to an airtight container. Store them in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator for up to six months.

Reconstituting prunes: How to reconstitute Prunes

As mentioned above, some  prunes you buy in hermetically sealed packets are partially re-hydrated which produces a much softer prune than if you were to buy them fully dried. You can usually eat these straight from the packet and they don’t need reconstituting before use. The instructions below are for prunes which are still in their fully dried state.

To plump prunes – place the fruit with an equal amount of liquid in a small saucepan and simmer for 7 to 10 minutes. Do not boil as the skins may split.

To plump prunes overnight - place the prunes in a heatproof bowl , add enough boiling liquid to cover then cover the bowl and leave for about 8 hours.

To soften prunes in the microwave - sprinkle them with liquid, cover, and cook at 100% power for about 2 minutes.




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