Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: Pluck a prune plum

Cathi Litzenberger had disdain for prune plums while growing up, but has since discovered the versatility of this tiny purple fruit

Prune plums were one of my least favourites when I was a kid, probably because every  family in the area seemed to have a tree.

It didn’t help that we ate them before they were nice and juicy ripe either. For us, these plums were perfect as ammunition in play, or to throw at empty tin cans, wandering dogs, or neighbourhood friends. No respect in those days for this wonderfully versatile fruit! For us kids it was eat them raw, eat them canned, or don’t eat them at all. I never liked them canned or jammed and I can’t remember ever sinking my teeth into a warm delicious plum coffee cake, or any prune/plum dessert for that matter Today, prune plums are one of my favourites for baking into muffins, cakes, pies, sauces, desserts of all kinds, and for canning into a variety of recipes to accompany  meats and other entrées.

A simple dessert is to halve the plums along their indentation, toss them in sugar, flour and cinnamon and bake in individual ramekins. Top with a crumble, or simply bake and garnish with a dollop of crème fraîche. Delicious!

Today’s recipes feature the lowly prune plum. The first is a Chinese plum sauce, perfect with egg rolls or brushed over chicken or ribs on the grill. Canned, it makes a perfect gift to pass along. The second recipe is a mouthwatering coffee cake. Enjoy.

Chinese Plum Sauce

8 cups plums, pitted, halved (3 lb/1.5 kg)

1 cup onion, chopped

1 cup water

1 tsp. gingerroot, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup rice vinegar or 1/2 cup cider vinegar

1 tsp. coriander, ground

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp. clove

In large heavy saucepan, bring plums, onions, water, ginger and garlic to boil over medium heat; cover, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until plums and onions are very tender, about 30 minutes.

Press through food mill or sieve and return to clean pan; stir in sugar, vinegar, coriander, salt, cinnamon, pepper and cloves. Bring to boil, stirring; reduce heat to low and simmer until mixture reaches consistency of applesauce, about 45 minutes.

Fill and seal jars; process in boiling water bath for 30 minutes.  Makes about 4 cups

Plum Coffee Cake

1- 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1/4 cup ground almonds

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup flavourless oil (safflower, corn, or canola)

1/2 cup whole milk plain yogurt

1/4 cup orange juice

1 tablespoon orange zest

1 large egg

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 cup granulated white sugar

7 – 8 Italian prune plums, halved and pitted (enough to cover cake)

2 tablespoons coarse brown sugar for garnish (I like to use Turbinado or Demerara)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and place rack in centre of oven. Butter and flour one 8-inch spring form pan. (Alternatively spray pan with non-stick vegetable/flour spray.) Line the bottom of pan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir or whisk together the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt.

In another large bowl, stir or whisk together the oil, yogurt, orange juice and zest, egg and vanilla extract. Stir in the sugar. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture. Stir until just combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan and evenly arrange the halved plums on top of the batter, flesh side facing up. Sprinkle with the 1 1/2 tbsp. brown sugar.

Bake in preheated oven about 35 to 45 minutes or until a sharp knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cool. Makes one 8-inch cake.

Serve warm with dollop of whipped cream if you wish.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every Wednesday and one Sunday per month.