Disclaimer: I realize now that prunes are not that photogenic. But I hope you'll stay long enough to perhaps give them a chance.
Last June I brought home 2 pounds of Agen prunes from France in my suitcase. That act itself tells a lot about the kind of traveler I am given the current luggage weight limitations of budget airlines these days. It probably also reveals a lot about my personality and my desire to have a memory of a place in the form of food. They were worth the effort, I must say.
Why these prunes, you might ask? There is a town in southwestern France called Agen. The prunes grown here are so special they have an AOC designation. This is a French certification that governs a geographical area for a certain food product. Prunes grown here get to say "Pruneaux d'Agen" on their labels, which is similar to calling a wine a Sparkling Wine or Champagne. In southwest France you see piles of them in the markets all plump, shiny and inviting. On one occasion a couple years ago we had the pleasure of enjoying them wrapped in bacon and warmed in the oven, enjoyed with a pre dinner drink. In my opinion this is the single best preparation to change anyone's mind about prunes. I also enjoyed them as a dessert in which they were poached in red wine and touch of citrus and served with those juices with ice cream. That dessert inspired me to try a classic French method of soaking them in tea.
Belonging mostly in the health food category, we don't give prunes much thought in North America. So much so, that its now becoming more common for them to be called dried plums. A little marketing genius if you ask me. I'll admit that until a couple years ago when I enjoyed prunes in France on several occasions, I've been a little lukewarm to them as well. But I've come around and now view them as a dried fruit worth my attention.
Tea Soaked Prunes
with guidance from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook
This is probably one of the easiest desserts you'll ever make, as well as one of the healthiest. Perfect for these post holiday cleansing regimes. Aside from that, they are delicate, soft and naturally sweet. I have enjoyed them as is but they certainly gain attention served over ice cream or along side a simple pound cake. And of course serving them with your morning oatmeal would be perfect as well. Traditionally they are made using earl grey tea, but I love the gentle freshness of white or green tea, especially a subtle fruit flavoured one. Prunes with pits left in will keep their shape better.
1 pound plump prunes, with pits if possible
2 cup water
5 tsp white or green tea, fruit flavoured is lovely
4 tsp sugar
2 strips of orange peel
1 strip lemon peel
1 inch piece of vanilla bean or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Place prunes in a 1 litre jar. Nestle citrus peels and vanilla bean.
Bring water to a boil. Pour into a 2 cup measuring cup and leave aside for 3 minutes to cool a bit This will reduce any chance of bitterness. Add tea and sugar and steep for 6 minutes. Stir to dissolve tea then strain over prunes. Add vanilla if using. Cool to room temperature, then keep in fridge for at least 1 week.
When serving, remove gently from jar and spoon some of the tea and juice over top.
These keep for at least a month in the fridge