Poached Prunes and Kumquats
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.
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