Louise Pick­ford pre­pares one of her all-time favourite dishes

Living France - - À LA MAISON -

Preserving fruits in France has, for cen­turies, been a do­mes­tic pas­time as well as a very prof­itable com­mer­cial in­dus­try. Prunes are prob­a­bly one of the most suc­cess­fully pre­served fruits of all. A lit­tle con­fus­ingly, a fresh plum in France is called a prune whereas in the UK and other English-speak­ing coun­tries, it is the dried fruit that we call a prune and buy al­ready dried from the su­per­mar­ket.

Prunes come from a va­ri­ety of plum known as prunus do­mes­tica or Euro­pean prune. It has a deep-pur­ple skin, the stone is eas­ily de­tached from the flesh mean­ing it is a free­stone fruit (as op­posed to cling­stone as many other plum va­ri­eties are) and it has a par­tic­u­larly high sugar con­tent. This al­lows the plum to be dried in the sun (or in a dry­ing ma­chine) with­out fer­ment­ing, which would leave it sour and worth­less. Once dried, the prune barely re­sem­bles the fruit it was be­fore and what we are left with is an inky black, moist, soft and richly flavoured fruit that can be eaten straight from the pack

The fruit is first soaked in ar­magnac be­fore be­ing bathed in a layer of rich creamy cus­tard and baked in a sweet pas­try shell

or used in many dif­fer­ent types of dishes, both sweet and savoury.

The best prunes in France come from sev­eral re­gions in the south of the coun­try and per­haps the best and most well known are from Agen in Lot-et-Garonne. Pruneau d’Agen is the name given to this par­tic­u­lar va­ri­ety, and it was this prune that was first ex­ported to Cal­i­for­nia in the 19th cen­tury. To­day they pro­duce the world’s largest sup­ply of prunes and ridicu­lously enough, many we buy in France are from Cal­i­for­nia!

Known as the fruit that will keep you ‘reg­u­lar’, prunes are packed full of good­ness. They are a good source of fi­bre and are high in vi­ta­min C and vi­ta­min K.

Al­though I love prunes with meat, es­pe­cially rab­bit and pork, I’m pow­er­less when it comes to a good cus­tard tart, and what bet­ter than com­bin­ing the two? Here the fruit is first soaked in ar­magnac be­fore be­ing bathed in a layer of rich creamy cus­tard and baked in a sweet pas­try shell. Served with crème fraîche, it’s a real de­light.

I think prunes are a highly un­der­rated and healthy fruit, and I hope that by shar­ing this recipe with you, I might go a small way to­wards spread­ing the word.

Louise Pick­ford is a food writer and stylist with more than 25 cook­books to her name. She lives in Char­ente with her food and life­style pho­tog­ra­pher hus­band Ian Wal­lace.

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