Italian Plum Prunes, botanically classified as Prunus domestica, are a European variety native to the coastal Mediterranean region of Italy. They are usually small, egg-shaped, dark red to purple, or almost black in color. Unlike Japanese plums, which are clingstones, the European plums are freestones, which refers to how closely the flesh adheres to the pit. Their flesh is golden-yellow to green-yellow. Since Italian plums are imported and pop up unexpectedly in local grocery stores, my network of friends and food enthusiasts always shares where they have found Italian plums at local grocery stores. Italian plums are now also grown in parts of California. Look for them during late summer, their peak season. For maximum sweetness and juiciness, they are best stored at room temperature.
Plums vs. Prunes
Plums and prunes can be simply depicted on a Venn diagram: All prunes are plums, but not all plums can be prunes. Plums are related to cherries, peaches, and almonds. Most varieties of plums have red skins when ripe, while prunes have blue or purple skin. Prunes are oval-shaped, while other types of plums are more round. Both plums and prunes are rich in antioxidants, potassium, and iron. They promote bone and heart health because they are packed with vitamins and minerals and contain the sugar alcohol sorbitol, which is a natural laxative. Prunes contain more fiber and calories and have a higher sugar content that allows them to dry without fermenting. Prunes are very sweet, making them perfect for drying. Plums are sometimes fermented, with the pickled Japanese Umeboshi being the most famous.They can also be purchased canned in syrup.
One Fruit Many Ways
Italian plums are a popular table fruit and are wonderful on their own, but their amazing flavor really emerges in baked desserts. Because of their low water content, high sugar content, and dense consistency, they make excellent creamy jams, which Italians serve over Gnocchi in a famous regional desert. Plums can be made into a compote or purchased preserved in brandy and syrup, which makes for an expensive winter holiday treat or a generous gift. They can be added to meats, such as plum stuffed pork loin, and roasted with poultry since they naturally thicken sauces and add a distinctive sweet flavor. Dried Italian prunes are a nutritious and delicious snack. In Southern Germany, Italian Prune plums (Zwetschgen) are the favorite seasonal fruit and are enjoyed stuffed into plum dumplings and wrapped in a dough covered in buttered breadcrumbs or farmers’ cheese with sugar (Zwetschgenknoedel). Zwetschgenkuchen is a decadent tart filled with a plum filling served during Rosh Hashanah and is eaten with the hope of happiness for the year to come. At Christmas, prunes are crafted into small figurines known as “plum people dolls,” which are sold in Christmas markets throughout Germany and are intended to bring good luck and fortune to households.
Here’s an example of a popular plum cake from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France
Alsacian Tarte aux Quetsches
25-30 plums, not too ripe
Pillsbury pie crust can be used, or you can make your from scratch
Cut plums as shown below
Place pie crust evenly in the bottom of a springform pan evenly and pierce the bottom with a fork to prevent puffing up during baking.
Sprinkle the unbaked crust with a little sugar and fine wheat semolina or cornmeal
Place the plums in concentric circles (see photo below), starting on the outer edge. As you get to the middle, you may need to use half a plumb. Fill bare spots with individual quarter plums where needed. Make sure they are standing up and are lined up tightly.
Sprinkle the top of the plums generously with sugar; they will caramelize during baking.
Bake at 425 F oven for 30-40 min
Place the baked tart on a rack and let it cool. Sprinkle with a little bit more sugar and cinnamon
To serve, remove the outer ring but leave the tart in the pan to cut!
How to cut the plums
Tart before baking
Find another famous plum cake and French classic here.
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