Go Plum Crazy About Australian Prunes...
Because Australian prunes are ready to leap out of the breakfast bowl into our daily diet
After years of being the wallflower of the pantry, Australian prunes are ready to leap out of the breakfast bowl to find their rightful place in our daily diet.
The humble prune, largely confined to the morning meal in Australia, has long enjoyed star status in other cultures. Prunes are a frequent ingredient in North African and Middle-Eastern cuisines and in Finland they're often used in pork and duck dishes. They're popular in Italy and the Netherlands and in Japan the prune is valued for its high potassium content.
In France, prunes reign supreme. Much sought after by foodies from around the world, local prunes are held in the same high regard as foie gras and Armagnac and they even have their own museum. Many great French chefs regularly feature prunes in their signature dishes and the French love prunes so much that grateful guests will often present their hostess with a beautifully wrapped box of prunes rather than chocolates.
Prunes are simply dried plums after all! The Prunus Domestica strain of plums can be traced back to ancient times and is believed to have originated in Western Asia. We know that ancient Egyptians used prunes, however it wasn't until the 12th century, when Crusaders took trees back to Europe from Syria, that they began to make their mark in the West.
Not all plums are suitable to dry as prunes. In the 13th century, monks in the Abbey of Clairac in the southwest of France created a new variety called the Ente Plum that could be preserved for a whole year after drying in the sun. By the early 16th century, plum orchards were flourishing throughout the region and soon, the nearby port of Agen gave its name to the dried fruit of the Ente plum - the now famous D'Agen prune.
The classic French D'Agen remains the ideal plum variety for drying because of its high levels of natural sugars, the thickness of its skin, it's ability to absorb liquid after drying and its intense flavour.
Australian Prunes are... Just Plum Good
The earliest records of the D'Agen being imported into Australia date back to 1866 and at the time, prunes were seen as potentially "a great source of wealth to the country."
Since then, there have been numerous plantings in and around southern NSW, with many trees being planted by returned soldiers in the 1920s. Today, the heart of the Australian prune industry is in the temperate areas of Young and Griffith, which offer ideal conditions for picturesque plum orchards. Now, around 70 farmers produce up to 3,000 tonnes of premium quality Australian prunes every year.
Prune production is one of the very few Australian horticultural sectors that is continuing to grow, with farmers planting new trees every year.
Australian prunes are dried on the farms where they're grown. Farmers pick them in late summer and early autumn, when the fruit has ripened and the sugar levels are just right. At that stage, the fruit is hanging like large purple grapes on the tree branch. It's picked very quickly by mechanical shakers and immediately dried overnight in large hot-air tunnels on the farm, so that the picking and drying process is complete within 24 hours.
The fruit will lose around two thirds of its moisture in the drying process, so three tonnes of freshly picked plums will make just one tonne of prunes. Once dried, the prunes can be stored for up to two years.