Do Not Despise the Lowly Prune!
ALL prunes are plums, but not all plums are prunes. There are varieties of plums. Certain varieties are tasty when they are dried. These dried plums are called prunes. Plums that are particularly well suited for this are called prune plums.
Although prune plums are grown in many countries, the state of California is the leading grower. In fact, most of the world’s prunes are produced there—some 150,000 tons of the dried fruit annually! California’s warm, dry climate is ideal for growing them.
It appears that Alexander the Great found plums in Persia and sent them back to Greece in the fourth century B.C.E. From Greece they were taken to other European lands, especially France. In the middle of the last century, they were imported from France to California. Now they are also grown in other western states, including Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
It is usually about seven years after they are planted that prune-plum trees begin producing a large crop. During the summer the fruit develops, and in August or September the fully ripened plums fall to the ground. However, many growers now do not wait for them to fall, but gently shake them from the trees. After they are picked up, the plums are washed.
The most important process is the drying, which gives prunes their wrinkled appearance. The plums may be spread upon wire-netting trays, and taken out to the field and exposed to the sun. It takes some six to ten days in the sun to dry them thoroughly.
Today, however, the drying is frequently done by means of dehydrators. A forced draft of hot air dries the fruit in some fourteen to twenty-four hours. Thus, two to three pounds of fresh plums are reduced to about one pound of prunes.
The prunes are then taken to bins. Here they are allowed to sweat or cure from two to three weeks, permitting them to obtain a uniform moisture content. Before their final packing, they are given a hot-water or steam bath to pasteurize them. This also brings their moisture content up to the desired level.
Not only do many consider prunes good tasting, but they are good for you. Some find beneficial their mild laxative effect. For some time it was thought that this was due to their cellulose content, but this is not so.
Prunes have been found to be laxative even when mixed with other foods—when their cellulose content would not matter much. Also, prune juice, which lacks cellulose, has the same laxative properties. So rather than cellulose content, it appears that there is a soluble substance in prunes that stimulates the peristaltic action of the intestines, giving prunes their laxative effect.
Constipation is a common malady of modern civilization, especially among sedentary workers. Thus prunes can be of real medicinal value. Some persons have found it is better to eat prunes to keep regular than to wait until they are seriously plagued with constipation and then take harsh laxatives. To get the full benefit of their laxative effect, some limit their breakfast to just a small dish of prunes.
But the lowly prune is also good for you in other ways. It has an abundance of sugar, and the kind of sugar that the body most readily assimilates. Also, the prune has more of certain essential vitamins and more of such indispensable minerals as iron and copper than any other fruit. Prunes are also said to help restore the hemoglobin count of the blood.
Cooks have discovered many tasty ways of serving this nutritious fruit to their families. Soaked overnight or stewed, they make a fine addition to breakfast. A cup of prune juice blended with two cups of chilled milk produces a delightful beverage. A compote of various fruits—prunes, apricots, apples and others—makes a tempting wintertime dessert. Some enjoy prune pastry with their morning cup of coffee.
However a person chooses to serve prunes, he can be sure that the family is receiving a beneficial fruit. Their valuable properties, exceptional food value and tastiness make prunes a part of the diet in many households.