by Amanda Thibodeau
It’s February, the month of love, Mardi Gras and 70-degree days, and with this weather, its hard to remember that we are still in the middle of winter. Despite the temperature, it is still winter (just ask the folks living in Boston!), and winter is an excellent time to enjoy preserved foods from the summer bounty. These foods bring us back to the height of summer abundance in a time of year when local food is scarce at best. Canned tomatoes, dilly beans, homemade jams, sauerkraut, dried fruit…there are so many ways to enjoy the taste and nutrition of the summer and fall in this, the shortest month of the year.
That’s exactly what 6,000 local students did earlier this month as part of February’s Harvest of the Month program. Dried French plums were the item of choice, and not surprisingly students gobbled them up! The plums came from Wooley Farms, an organic operation run by the Johnson family out of Gridley, CA.
Now, I know what you’re thinking…dried plums- but aren’t those PRUNES?!? Did Sierra Harvest really serve prunes to 6,000 students? Oh we did. And it was glorious. These aren’t your grandma’s prunes, either. It’s 2015, which means it’s high time prunes got a makeover. Now it sounds like a euphemism, but seriously, when is the last time you had a dried plum? They are plum delicious!
- California is the world’s largest producer of dried plums, supplying 48 percent of the world’s supply and 99 percent of the U.S. supply—almost 100,000 tons that go to more than 50 countries each year. Put another way, that’s enough dried plums to circle the earth more than six times!
- The California Dried Plum took root during the Gold Rush, when brothers Louis and Pierre Pellier brought the Petite d’Agen plum from France and grafted it onto wild American rootstock. Thanks to its high sugar content, the Petite d’Agen ripens fully on the tree without fermenting around the pit.
- When a labor shortage hit California in 1905, a farmer turned to 500 monkeys to harvest the prune plums. Organized into gangs of 50 with a human foreman, the monkeys picked the prune plums well but ate them all up! Today, machines do the work—without eating the fruit.
- A prune plum tree produces up to 300 pounds of fruit. Fans of the fruit should appreciate each little one, as it takes three pounds of the fresh fruit to make one pound dried!
- If you think California Dried Plums come from the grocery store, you’re only half right. The special type of trees on which they grow actually come from western Asia, near a huge lake—the biggest in the world—called the Caspian Sea. Way back in the Middle Ages, the Crusaders brought these special prune plum trees from Asia to western Europe.
- Dried plums are a convenient, economical fruit – a pantry staple because they resist spoilage and require no refrigeration.
- Dried plums can help overcome the shortfall of needed nutrients and foods. One serving (about 5 dried plums) has 3 grams of fiber, 293 mg of potassium, and 16 mg of magnesium, all for less than 100 calories.
- Dried plums promote heart, bone and digestive health. Dried plums reduce LDL cholesterol in both animals and humans and help our bones to remain strong.
There are many ways to use this versatile kitchen staple- from eating plain as an energy promoting snack, to adding dried plums to chili for a sweet spicy kick, dried plums are a versatile and delicious addition to any meal!
Dried Plum & Cream Cheese Spread
(courtesy of the California Dried Plum Board)
For spreading on sandwiches or toasted bagels, or with apples slices, crackers or celery sticks, you can’t beat this combo of cream cheese, dried plums and walnuts.
Prep Time 15 minutes
1 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup finely chopped dried plums, divided
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts, toasted
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 to 2 tablespoons orange juice, to taste
1 tablespoon honey
In bowl, combine cream cheese, dried plums, nuts, 1 tablespoon of the orange juice, honey and cinnamon; mix well. Add remaining orange juice, if necessary, to reach desired consistency. Season with salt, as desired. To serve, spread onto toasted bagels, sliced apples, crackers or celery sticks.