Celebrity chef and star of such TV classics as ‘Ladette to Lady’ and ‘I’m a Celebrity …’, Rosemary Shrager loves prunes. She is especially fond of those nurtured in the soft, laid back warmth of southern California. That’s obvious after a group of foodies, writers and bloggers spent a few hours with her at the hobs of her cookery school (@RSCookerySchoool) in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. We were attending a cookery workshop organised by Prunes from California (@CaliforniaPrune) and directed by ‘Chef’ Rosemary herself.
Rosemary is ‘Prunes from California’ latest ambassador and is busy creating new recipes and ways of using the fruit for the group. Supported by the California Prune Board, this loose group of 900-plum farmers and handlers farm in the San Joachim valley. Their orchards cover over 46,000 acres of fertile ground and supply a produce for a fast growing international fan base.
Harvested annually over a three-week period starting mid-August, the ‘plums’ ripen on the branch, a method not seen in other prune hotspots such as France. Once picked, the ‘prunes’ are washed in spring water and further dehydrated to 21% moisture content.
These were some of the facts we gleaned during our introduction to the workshop. Rosemary knows how to handle a crowd, and we were swiftly guided through a variety of cooking techniques and recipes. We spent four hours soaking up new skills from handling knives and flavour matching to baking Wheaton Bread (see recipe below). For example, adding a couple of spoonfuls of cumin when cooking the nutty-flavoured Carmargue (red) rice deliciously complements the sweet presence of the chopped prune.
Rosemary is a great fan of using butter; preparing and cooking slowly and finishing it all off with a great presentation on the table and the plate – all sentiments the group supported vociferously.
Recipes and health
Chef Rosemary uses the prune’s natural sweetness and moisture to add to a variety of dishes from stuffing for chicken breast and salmon, giving bite to a white chocolate panna cotta or adding prune purée to soften brownies and ‘macaprunes’.
However, while prunes add natural sweetness and texture to savoury and pudding dishes, they are increasing being recognised for their health benefits. Seen as ‘wrinkled wonder fruits’, prunes are now seen as positive for weight loss diets; maintaining good bone strength and heart health; promoting digestive health and reducing sugar intake. These claims are backed up with solid research from the University of Liverpool which recommends eating prunes as part of weight control diet. That California prunes boost digestive health has been recognised by the EU Commission’s European Food Safety Authority becoming the only natural, whole and dried fruit to get such recognition.
However, when considering prunes it’s hard not to consider the delicate matter of ‘bowel movements’.
“Discussing bowl function in the UK is a very difficult topic so public health messaging around this subject can be hard to communicate,” says nutritionist and registered dietician Jennette Higgs. “For normal function the recommendation is that we eat 25g of fibre in our diet every day, and ye 80% of the UK does not eat enough. Fibre comes from fruits, vegetables, salad, wholegrains, nuts and seed – so it is important to include a plentiful range of these foods in your daily diet.” So eating three prunes a day as one part of your fie-a-day fruit and veg with keep you regular, and you’ll not dashing to the loo!
In 2013 Californian prune exports totalled 105,000 tonnes, of which 3,340 tonnes were eaten in the UK making us the sixth largest market for the ingredient. Many are snapped up by the catering industry or sold in own-brand packets. However, retailers Aldi and Holland & Barrett do sell branded packets of Californian prunes.
And finally, don’t forget to enter Prunes from California’s competition to win a masterclass in bread making with Rosemary at her cookery school. Find out more by visiting the California Prune Facebook page.
California Prune and Wheaten Bread
360g wholemeal, stone-ground, medium or coarse flour
16 California Prunes
120g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 heaped teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon bran
1 tablespoon wheat or oat germ
329ml – 448ml butter milk
Place the wholemeal flour in a mixing bowl. Sieve in the plain flour, salt and baking soda.
Stir in the California Prunes, bran, germ and sugar and mix thoroughly. Now cut the butter into small pieces and rub into the mixture.
Make a well in the centre and pour in the butter milk. Mix together very quickly and gently to form a loose dough (a consistency rather like thick porridge).
Lightly grease two loaf tins (480g).
Now divide the dough evenly, leaving the surface rough, sprinkle with wholemeal flour or bran to give a malty surface. Press down around edges with wet (plenty of water) fingers.
Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes on 220°C and then lower the heat to 200°C for a further 30-35 minutes.
The bread should be firm to touch, brown and well risen. Insert a skewer into the centre of the bread and if it comes out clean it is cooked.
Chicken Breast with California Prunes, Liver and Rosemary
4 medium chicken breast
8 thin rashers pancetta
Salt and black pepper
For the stuffing
6 California prunes – each prune cut into four
6 good size chicken livers
1 tablespoon shallots finely chopped
1 dessert spoon fresh rosemary chopped
Salt and pepper
For the sauce
500ml rich chicken stock
½ lemon – juice only
First make the stuffing, cut away the veins from the chicken livers, rinse and dry them well, then cut them into three.
Soften the shallots in the butter, add the chicken livers and cook for one minute, do not overcook the livers they need to still be pink.
Now fold in the chopped California prunes with the rosemary, mix and season. Leave to one side to get cold.
Take the chicken breasts and cut them into an even butterfly then cut through so you have two separate pieces. Take one of the chicken sides and put the opposite end so as to make it even when you are wrapping.
Take a roll of cling wrap and put it behind a board then pull the cling wrap forward and do not cut. Lay the pancetta vertically then put one side of the chicken breast lengthwise, cut a small slit in the middle of the thick end put the stuffing down the centre now put the other piece chicken on top, thick end other side. Start rolling by bringing up the pancetta. Keep rolling, being careful not to roll the cling wrap in. Roll up a few times in the cling wrap, then cut off, roll until it’s tight.
Repeat with the other three chicken breasts.
Put all the rolls into a steamer for 15 minutes turning them half way.
Remove from the steamer and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Remove the cling wrap.
In a frying pan brown the rolls on all sides on a medium heat to give them some colour.
To make the sauce, reduce the chicken stock to about 150ml, then whisk in the butter and a squeeze of lemon.
California Prune and White Chocolate Panna Cotta
5 California prunes cut into 8 pieces each/ finely chopped
330ml double cream
100ml full fat milk
100g good white chocolate, broken into pieces
6g gelatin leaves, soaked for 5-10 minutes in warm water, squeezed dry
For the garnish
12 whole California prunes soaked in brandy and syrup
For the syrup
150g golden caster sugar
100ml brandy optional
First put the California prunes into a small processor and puree, with a few bits left in.
Heat the cream and milk in a pan over a medium heat until the mixture is almost simmering.
Reduce the heat to low and stir in the white chocolate and sugar until the ingredients have melted and the mixture is well combined.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the soaked gelatin leaves. Stir until the gelatin leaves have melted then set the mixture aside until it has completely cooled.
Now add the processed California prunes and allow the mixture to start to set so that the prunes are suspended.
Pour the Panna Cotta mixture into ramekins, and then chill in the fridge for 4 hours, or until set firm.
To make the syrup put the water and sugar into a small saucepan, simmer until it starts to thicken and then add the California prunes. Cook for a further minute before adding the brandy. Leave for as long as possible.
To serve, dip the ramekin bases and sides in warm water to loosen the Panna Cotta from the moulds, being careful not to leave in the water too long otherwise it will start running.
Turn out one Panna Cotta into the centre of each plate, then surround with three soaked California prunes.