I have always liked prunes, now often referred to as "dried plums" in an attempt to avoid the non-glamourous associations which may come to mind. But my affection for the prune was reanimated by both the fabulous cake of the redfox (who just happens to be kith and kin), and the recent David Lebowitz pruneathon. So, as I began perusing my new copy of the lovely and inspirational Cooking of Southwest France, by the ever-wonderful Paula Wolfert, I heard her recipe for Sweet and Sour Prunes calling my name.
They were just the thing really, as they are recommended as perfect with a variety of charcuterie, an area I happen to be exploring lately. I really am a huge fan of that which is pickled, salted ,smoked, jellied or otherwise hand preserved- a kind of pantry-obsessed nutcase. (I'm also very partial to nuts- of the edible kind.But I keep them in the freezer-unless, of course, they've been pickled.) The only trouble is, I have to wait 6 weeks before these prunes are ready. I thought I'd better get started, particularly as I hope to enjoy them while I am still on this charcuterie kick.
I deviated in three respects from the dictates of P.W. First, I failed to notice that I was supposed to be using prunes with the pits intact, and bought the wrong kind. Secondly, the Armangac I snuck in at the end was not original. However, I could not resist using it. I had a recent battle with myself about buying it, which I lost, or won, depending on how you look at it. It was an important part of another P.W. recipe from the same new cookbook, but it is uniformly very expensive. My plan had been to buy a couple of those little airline-sized bottles, just to use in a few recipes. A very much nicer than usual state store clerk went out of his way to see if any were available in the whole Commonwealth of PA, promising to get them in for me. Nope. So, I wound up with a whole large bottle, and intend to sip some after dinner to ease the pain of insolvency. Third, I used different vinegar. Mea culpa.
My slightly adulterated version requires:
prunes, with pits if you are paying attention while shopping 12 oz.
brewed tea 1 cup-PW suggests chamomile or orange pekoe
granulated sugar 1 1/2 cups
vinegar 2 cups PW calls for tarragon white wine vinegar-I used spanish sherry vinegar
sprig tarragon (if, like me, you didn't use tarragon vinegar)
cloves 2 whole
Armangnac 2 tbsps (opt)
First, put the prunes in a small saucepan with the tea, and simmer 10 minutes. Let them stand for a few hours. Meantime, mix the sugar, vinegar tarragon, cinnamon and cloves in another small saucepan. (This is the last small saucepan you need today. If, like me, you only have two of them, you can breathe easily.) Chill til cold.
Drain the prunes. You can toss the tea. I tasted it first, yokel that I am. Don't bother. Dry the prunes with a fresh dishtowel or paper towels. If you got the ones with pits, poke each one a couple of times with a pin. Needless to say, this is unnecessary if they are pitted and hence already have huge holes in them. Put them in a non reactive vessel of some kind- and strain the vinegar solution over them. Let them rest 24 hours.
The next day, strain the vinegar solution into a nonreactive pan, which you will have washed out yesterday, no? Toss out the tarragon, cloves and cinnamon. Boil 6-8 minutes. Put the prunes in a very clean glass pint ball jar. Chill the vinegar mix-then pour over prunes. Add the armagnac, then enough vodka to cover the prunes. Seal, and put in a dark dry spot for (at least) 6 weeks. Refrigerate after opening.
You may be able to see, in the picture, my embarassingly marthaesque vanity preserves labels. I have 2 kinds, one small and oval, the other larger and square, with spaces to fill in the type and date- I got them from My Own Labels, who give you quite a bit of room to customize. Mine also bear the name of my personal fantasy confiture company, "Wildlife Preserves". I know, I know. But I had to label them, didn't I?
BTW, as long as I'm babbling on about pantry goodies, here's a brief update on the Luxardo Maraschino cherry experiments: The far and away winner among my trials is the simple jar of mixed sweet and sour dried cherries, ordered from the Bakers' Catalogue people at King Arthur Flour, maraschino liquor poured over them to fill small jar, lid screwed on tight, in the fridge one month before opening. My oh my. I love these to bits.