Prunes -

Are dried plums of certain cultivated varieties. Until as recently as 1890 almost the entire supply was imported from Europe, the principal sources being France, Spain, Austria-Hungary (including Bosnia, Servia, etc.) and Germany, but to-day the general market is fully supplied by California and the other Pacific States, and large quantities of California prunes are exported to every part of the world - among the best customers being Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Holland, Belgium, Denmark and Australia. There is still, however, a steady sale of a limited quantity of fine prunes imported from France and also shipments in lesser volume from Germany and Austria-Hungary, the last-named principally of cheap grades and decreasing in importance.

The California industry started with a single tree which a Frenchman by the name of Peller planted there in 1870. At that time the French product led the world. It was soon found that the prune throve on the Pacific coast, and that the hot, dry summer brought out its full saccharose qualities. The first orchard, planted in the Santa Clara valley, just south of San Francisco, now the prune producing center of the state, was laid out by a Mr. Bradley. It commenced to yield in 1875 and, though only ten acres in extent, the trees in four years gave fruit to the value of $14,000.

The present California production reaches from 140 to 160 million pounds. An acre generally averages about one hundred trees, and it is not unusual for a tree to bear 800 pounds of fruit in one season. An interesting point is that the fruit is never grown on its own stocks, but from grafts on wild-plum, peach and apricot stocks in this country and on plum stock in Europe. The best French product is generally gathered from trees grafted on wild-plum stock.

By the French method of treatment, the plums for the finest grades are picked by hand, spread in shallow baskets and set in a cool, dry place until they become soft. They are then placed on sieves and shut in spent ovens. At the end of twenty-four hours they are taken out, but only to be replaced after the ovens have been slightly reheated. This process is repeated once more, the fruit during the interim being turned by slightly shaking the sieves, and then they are removed and allowed to become cold. Finally comes the packing in cans, tin boxes and glass jars, which are hermetically sealed and labeled.

The drying process requires a considerable degree of skill, the aim being to develop the saccharose of the prune without changing its flavor or detracting from its fruity character.

Some packers follow the drying by various supplementary treatments, giving the fruit a dark color by means of a harmless pigment, coating it with glycerine to retain its moisture, etc.

The largest fruit of the highest grade of French prunes, number about 30 to the pound. From this, they run up in number and down in grade to 130 to the pound. The figures 50 to 55, 80 to 85, etc., which occur in price-lists, refer to the number of prunes to the pound.

It takes an average of 2 1/2 to 3 pounds of the fresh fruit to make one pound of prunes, the difference representing the evaporation of the water content.

By the California method, the fruit is generally allowed to fall from the tree in order to secure the fullest ripeness and consequently the greatest possible sugar content. Drying in the sun is also substituted for the oven-drying of the French process, being preceded by hot and cold immersions. The prunes are finally graded into ten chief sizes - 20 to 30 to a pound, 30 to 40, 40 to 50, 50 to 60, 60 to 70, 70 to 80, and so on, the bulk of the product being marketed in boxes of five pounds and upward. The smaller "fancy" packings include a number of glacé types, stuffed with apricots, nuts, ginger, etc. The canned product ranges from small "individual" cans holding only 8 or 9 prunes, up to the gallon size.

California prunes, in addition to their fine flavor, are rendered very desirable by the use of sterilizing machines, which clean the fruit at a high temperature and destroy all bacterial life.

No fruit can boast higher food value than prunes, for they contain large amounts of both protein and easily digestible sugar. They are also valuable as a laxative and the water in which they are stewed is for this reason frequently employed as a vehicle for purgative medicines.

It seems a pity that cheap humor and poor jokes should be laid so heavily on such excellent, serviceable fruit, which is always good, always in season and capable of use in a great diversity of ways - stewed alone, or with tart plums, orange, lemon, spices, etc.; in pies, puddings and cakes - but the reason for slandering them is, perhaps, to be found in the wide ignorance concerning their proper preparation. The public is not so much to blame for this as would-be cooking teachers and writers. Nearly every writer tells you to "soak the prunes over night." This is wrong. prunes that are soaked over night and then stewed, become soft, mushy and water-soaked - the flesh disintegrates and the fruit loses both flavor and shape.

Instead of ruining the fruit by soaking it, rinse it in scalding water and wash thoroughly in cold water; then strain through a colander and place it in a cooking vessel (porcelain preferred), add as much water as fruit and set on the back of the stove or range to simmer until tender. Do not boil. You will thus obtain

stewed prunes that are tender but firm in flesh, palatable and in every way delicious.

No sugar is needed for good California prunes, but Oregon prunes are more tart and are generally improved by about a tablespoonful for each pound of fruit.

Arround Prunes in The Grocer's Encyclopedia


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