Sunday, July 21, 2013
Farm Bulletin: Life's a Bowl of…Prunes? Pt. 2
In Part Two of this Farm Bulletin, contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm discusses the much-maligned prune and shares a unique way of curing the immature green fruit. In Part One he discusses the attributes of sour cherries.
The stone fruits have three separate layers surrounding the seed and are what botanists call a drupe. The layers are the skin (exocarp), the pulpy flesh (mesocarp) and the hard layer surrounding the seed (endocarp) that the laity call the stone or pit. These three layers are derived from the mother plant's tissues, whereas the seed inside is the result of the sexual union of the sperm produced by the pollen and the mother plant's egg. The various stone fruit have characteristically shaped endocarps. Cherries have round ones, peaches have a large-pitted version, almonds have a softer corky endocarp, and the plums have a very hard asymmetric pit. The seeds have a characteristic bitter almond flavor, and some are toxic when eaten in large quantities. The Boutards have long eaten the seeds of stone fruit without apparent ill effects. In many parts of Europe, it is customary to include some pits to flavor preserves and eau de vies made from stone fruit, just as Sarah [Minnick of Lovely's 50/50] does with her ice cream.
If you have an over-productive prune in your backyard, you can pick the very young fruit in the spring, before the pit has hardened, and cure them just as you would olives. The whole fruit is edible, no need to pit them, and you use them in dishes just as you would olives. We crack the fruits with a mallet and put them in a jar with water, changing it daily until they turn olive green. Last year, we cured them in lye. The cured plums look no different than cured olives; the lye cured plums are dark just like lye cured olives. Publication 8267 from UC Davis gives good directions. We got the idea for curing plums from a visiting Chicago Chef Paul Kahan, who served up a dish with green peaches cured in the same manner. Greg Higgins and his staff cured gage plums and seasoned them with a Tunisian accent. That is the great part of having visitors to the farm, they always leave a new idea or two as they depart.
Illustration of plums at left by Alois Lunzer from the Brown Brothers Continental Nurseries Catalog, 1909.