I don’t know about you but I’m reaping what I sowed and buckling under the weight of it. This evening’s entertainment will be brought to me by plum sauce and fig relish. In fact most evenings this week involved one form of squirreling activity or another.
But this year I’m determined not to succumb to the ease of the big white forgettery (chest freezer). Come the evening hour it is easy to pop those [insert crop here] into a large freezer bag and snuggle them in under the white door of DONE. But they’re not are they; you’re just delaying dealing with them and adding to your power bill. And hands up who’s discovered bags of last years harvest still lurking when you’ve come to deposit the new seasons crop?. I’ve been known to give visitors 5kg bags of frozen produce to take home with them.
Plums have borne the brunt of my freezer hide and seek over the years and this year was shaping up to be the same with a bumper crop. But “fortunately” the wind took care of a few for me and the birds took care of some more. I love bottling and making jam but I need a family of 10 to eat it and I don’t like dusting jars of preserves, even if they do make me look like a proficient country lady. So this year I’ve decided on a batch of sauce, a brew of wine, drying them and giving them away to other people who may put them in their freezers. Here are my tips for drying plums and making prunes.
Method 1 – Dried Plum Slices (photo above)
I’ve used red fleshed early Sultan plums for dried slices. If you pick the plums when they are ripe but still firm, then they are easier to slice cleanly and the dried slices will have a little residual tart flavour which is very yummy and a good substitute for dried cranberries or cherries in any recipe. You can use them in biscuits, baking and rehydrate them in a little water or wine to add to ice creams and desserts. I use them in my muesli and as a sweet snack. They store for at least a year in a clean glass jar with a screw lid.
Wipe the plums clean with a damp paper towel and then slice them into 6 or 8 slices. Try to get the slices roughly the same thickness so they dry evenly. Spread them on the trays of your dehydrator with a little bit of room between each slice. Dry them on high, check after 12 hours and they may need another 4 hours. They are done when they are hard and the thick part of the slice won’t squish or smear between your fingers.
Method 2. How to make Prunes
Making your own prunes is easy. They are best made from prune plums which are the oblong, purple-skinned, yellow fleshed plums you will find at the farmers’ markets towards the end of summer. They are the last plum varieties to ripen and have a high sugar content which makes them ideal for drying. My prune plum tree is the Italian variety and its a prolific and reliable cropper.
To make prunes you need very ripe fruit, try and leave them on the tree as long as possible. Wipe the fruit down with a damp paper towel and leave the stones in as it gives a beautiful marzipan flavour to the finished prune and keeps the skin intact. Most prune plums are freestone so the stones come out easily once they are dried. Lay the intact plums out on the tray, you may need a spacer tray if they’re big, and dehydrate for 12 hours on a low heat. If you do them on high the skin dries too quickly. Turn them over and dry for another 12 hours on medium heat and check mid-way to see how they are looking.
You will know when they are ready because they will be well wrinkled and shriveled up but will still have a little give in them. If you don’t dry them well enough they will go moldy so err on the side of over drying them as you can always re-hydrate them with a little wine or water prior to using them. Store bought prunes are partially rehydrated so don’t use these as your guide – your homemade prunes need to be drier than shop ones to keep. Store in a clean glass jar with a screw top lid and they will keep for years if properly dried. Their high sugar content acts as a preservative.
Dehydrators are cost-effective to run. Mine uses 3c of electricity an hour and has a powerful motor which pushes warm air from the bottom up through the trays which is more effective than models that push the air from the top. If you are buying a dehydrator get a good one as the drying time will be greatly reduced.
OK, plum sauce is done now. Fig relish can wait until tomorrow. Good evening and happy harvesting.