While shopping recently, I met an old acquaintance in pursuit of comestibles. The woman collared me between cans of dog food and packages of dried fruit, where she was perusing a carton of prunes through her bifocals.
"Just the man I've been looking for . . ." my friend announced as our carts collided. "How come you don't have a recipe for prune whip in any of your books?"
"I don't know," I said. "Is it a serious omission?"
"You bet your boots it is," she said with a passing glance at my footwear. "No one remembers the good old-fashioned dishes that are good for you, anymore. And since you're always espousing the cause of honest American fare it's your responsibility to give prune whip what Hollywood would call a come-back."
Taking our chat to heart, I bought a package of prunes on the spot, and purchased several more during the next few days as I began testing prune recipes in my kitchen. I worked on the requested dessert (which is truly delectable even by today's trendy standards) and other amalgams also dependent upon this high-fiber ingredient.
An Undervalued Fruit
Interest piqued, I began making phone calls around the country to prune growers and nutritionists to increase my knowledge of this curiously undervalued fruit. Here's what I discovered.
In terms of eating prunes, to my mind, they are at their best popped straight from the carton. The California Prune Board, however, suggests steaming them, covered, in a vegetable steamer or strainer over boiling water for 10 minutes to plump them. An alternate old-fashioned method is combining prunes and water in equal parts and simmering 10 minutes or less if the prunes are pitted.
My grandmother, however, always placed prunes in a jar, covered with water or orange juice, and allowed them to stand overnight. My favorite such method of prune cookery comes from the late Alice B. Toklas. She sluiced the fruit with the best Port wine she could find and insisted the mixture stand two weeks, tightly covered, in a cupboard before she deemed them ready to be served with thick cream.
My own latest prune brainstorm somewhat profits from her example. I cover the fruit with brewed espresso coffee to which I add one tablespoon of dark rum and a teaspoon of slivered lemon peel. The mixture must stand, tightly covered, in the refrigerator at least one day. Two days or a week are even better. But don't consider eating these prunes for breakfast; they're banquet food.
What follows is a Greene version of prune whip that started this train of thought, plus another plum inspiration.
My prune whip recipe is dependent upon a custard base and a tinge of almond to make the prune flavor even more pungent. In actuality, it's really a prune mousse.
OLD-FASHIONED PRUNE WHIP
3/4 cup chopped pitted prunes
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup boiling water
3 eggs, separated
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup milk, scalded
1 cup whipping cream or half and half
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
Place prunes in heat-proof bowl. Sprinkle with almond extract. Pour boiling water over top. Set aside.
Whisk egg yolks with granulated sugar in top of double boiler until smooth. Whisk in vanilla, cornstarch and scalded milk. Place over simmering water and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Place prunes with all liquid in container of food processor. Process, using on-off button, until smooth. Transfer to large bowl. Fold in cooled custard.
Beat cream with powdered sugar until stiff. Fold into prune mixture.
Beat egg whites until stiff. Fold into prune mixture. Transfer to serving bowl. Chill well before serving. Makes 8 servings.
These little healthy hot breads, made in the food processor, are the creation of Abby Mandel. The recipe was originally printed in The Pleasures of Cooking magazine.
1 1/3 cups whole-bran cereal
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 pitted prunes
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
Grease a 12 (1/2-cup) muffin tin.
Process cereal in food processor fitted with metal blade until finely chopped, about 30 seconds. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, prunes, sugar, buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla and process 10 seconds. Scrape down sides of work bowl. Process 10 seconds longer.
Fill each muffin cup 2/3 full with batter. Bake at 375 degrees in center of oven until golden brown and firm to touch, about 25 minutes. Cool in tin 10 minutes before turning out onto rack. Makes about 1 dozen.