Prunes (Italian plums or prune plums) have always been part of my life. My parents and grandparents had a small acreage of prunes. It was the only fruit crop that they grew for commercial purposes. They are relatively easy to grow, requiring little to no spraying for pests and diseases. Both early varieties, middle of August harvest, and late varieties, Labour Day harvest, were grown on our farm. While I was growing up on the farm, the prune picking was undertaken by the children of the neighbourhood. The money earned from the picking was turned into the purchase of back to school supplies. These supplies were purchased at the Rexall Drug Store, who gave out free Paramount movie passes for the first Saturday in September matinee.
The majority of the Prune crop was sold to local packing houses for export. The few locals that ate Prunes, grew their own. Over the years Kelowna has developed a taste for these versatile and healthy fruits. Prunes are native to the the Mediterranean coastal regions of Italy, and although they are named after their country of origin, they are not a favourite there. Instead, these Prunes (Zwetschgen) are a hit in Germany and feature in many Germany desserts. We have been the lucky recipient of several excellent gluten free “Plum Kuchens” from our neighbour, Ann.
Prunes are known for their sweet flavour, that becomes deeper with baking. You can eat them fresh and plain. They are a fantastic source of potassium, calcium, phosphate, and Vitamins C and B. The skins provide antioxidants, and of course, dietary fiber. Prunes make excellent lunch box snack as they are not messy and, unlike plums, are easily detached from their pits. But, in baking they become superstars. That firm skin helps them hold up well when baked, and the sweet flavour deepens and becomes more complex when exposed to heat. You can also dry prunes for storage. You will not be limited to only eating them as plain Prunes. You can later use them in baked dishes or in trail mix. Our family still dries Prunes each year. We dry them to a “liquorice” texture and then freeze them. In this frozen state, they keep for years and can be dipped into and eaten straight from the freezer.
Prunes cook up well. Each year I cook up a large pot full, letting it simmer for several hours until it is quite thick. I freeze it in 2-cupful containers, that are ready for making my Prune loaves. I also can some of it, no sugar or pectin added, for use as a jam or ice-cream topping.
Because Prunes are not created by cross pollination, you can actually grow your own from the seed of a ripe fruit. Let the seed set outside over the winter, and then plant after the cold period has ended. You can plant a single Prune tree and expect fruit because it is self-pollinating. These trees are among the easiest fruit trees to grow, so they are great for gardeners just getting started.