Prunes are serious business in France and unlike Americans, it doesn’t take any name-changing to get the French to eat them. Prune fans, like me, are partial to those from Agen, in Gascony, which are mi-cuit; partially-dried. Their flavor is as beguiling and complex as a square of the finest chocolate.
Interestingly, the prunes cultivated in California are grafted from the same prunes grown in the southwest of France.
Recently someone brought me a care package of heirloom dried beans from Rancho Gordo. Every time I go back to the states, I put in my order, and bring six or eight packages of the vividly-colored beans back to France with me. When a friend of Steve Sando, the head honcho of Rancho Gordo, came to Paris recently, he gave her some beans to pass off to me, and she also kindly included a bag of California dried prunes direct from her neighbor’s orchard.
The small zip-top bag had about twenty or so prunes in it, and they were tiny and hard, and a bit dusty. But once washed and poached, each little nugget blossomed into something tender and spicy-sweet. I had a hard time not eating all of them right from the pot the moment they were cool enough to handle.
Prunes pair very well with tart circles of bright kumquats which I had a hard time explaining to Salim, who runs one of the best produce stands in Paris in the covered Marche Beauvau in the Marche d’Aligre. No matter how obscure something is that I’m looking for, Salim will have it. And because it follows suit that if I’m looking for one thing in particular, everyone will be sure to have everything but the one thing I’m looking for. Many times I’ll just head there first and save myself a few steps.
It’s surprising how well the perky kumquats go with the silky prunes. Which, of course, Salim had. But if you can’t find them, you can just serve the prunes with orange segments to provide the same tangy counterpoint to the poached prunes. The French rarely pit prunes before they serve them, but feel free to use pitted prunes.
Poached Prunes and Kumquats
I like to add ruby port wine to the prune poaching liquid, but you can use red wine, or simply water, if you prefer. As mentioned above, you’re welcome to use pitted or unpitted prunes. If using unpitted prunes, you should alert guests to be aware of the presence of pits.
For the poached prunes
- 2 cups (500 ml) water
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) port wine
- 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 thick slice of lemon
- 20-25 prunes (dried plums)
For the kumquats
1 cup (250 ml) water
1/4 cup (50 g) sugar
15-20 kumquats, sliced and seeded
1. To poach the prunes, heat the water, port, sugar, cinnamon, and lemon slice together in a medium saucepan.
2. Add the prunes and cook at a gentle simmer for about 10 minutes, until the prunes are tender. If your prunes are large or quite dry, they make take longer.
3. Once the prunes are tender, remove the prunes from the heat.
4. To glaze the kumquats, bring the water, sugar, and kumquats to a boil in a small saucepan.
5. Reduce the heat to a gentle boil and cook for about 10 minutes, keeping an eye on them during the last few minutes, by the end of which time, the liquid will be reduced and syrupy. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
Serving: Serve the prunes with a bit of their liquid in assiettes à soupe, deep-soup plates, with some of their liquid and kumquats strewn over the top. If you’d like, add a dollop of crème fraîche or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Storage: The prunes and kumquats can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week before serving. The prunes actually benefit from being cooked in advance, so feel free to prepare them a day or so before serving.
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