When I say “people used to make fun of me” for my love of prunes, it was not so much that it was more than one person, but one specifically – my best friend. She giggled that I ate like an old lady, with my love of prunes and tapioca pudding. But what could I say, I did love them.
The yearly made, family brandied fruitcake is loaded with sticky, sweet, prunes soaked for a week in booze. They were always part of my growing up, and have found their way into this ginger prune skillet snack cake today!
Fast forwarding 14 years, past the ridicule of my still-best-friend, I gleefully went down to Napa to get the real story on the dried fruit I love so much! Visiting with the California Dried Plum board gave me an insight into the soup to nuts, or orchard to table as it were, life of a plum and how it becomes a prune. I found out that there is more to a prune than meets the eye.
Firstly, although all prunes are plums, not all plums can be prunes. To ensure consistency, and quality, one specific French variety, the Petite d’Agen, has become the leader in prunes. And 99 percent of the US prune supply is grown right California. Walking amongst the orchard with ripe plums giving a sweet whist to the dusty air in the middle of harvest was my kind of heaven. Picking them right from the tree to eat one, sticky and syrupy, surrounded by friends doing the same was my kind of heaven.
Beyond the fun facts we learned, I am continually amazed at the human element of growing the plums and that family cooperative farms are the staple of the industry. The brands you know and love are cooperatives made up of family farms dotting the San Juaquin and Sacramento Valley. They love what they do, and strive to make the most of what technology has to offer them. Marrying a farmer who studied crop and soil science, I found that this translates to all areas of agriculture, where he focused on dry field crops like wheat, to what I saw in Napa in the orchards of the California plum growers. Technology rules the day, and they strive to utilize the most up to date technologies to regulate and optimize their crops. From drip irrigation, that was a vast departure from previous flood irrigation methods, not only gave the orchards a more consistent moisture level, it was more efficient and water conscious! Smartphones are a staple in agriculture now, so not only can the growers monitor weather patterns, but utilizing apps with satellite technology to pin point where they need to focus their energy and strategize their efforts for maximum growth efficiency.
All of this effort leads to a superior product by the time it’s grown, harvested, dried, and sent to your store shelves.
And when you finally get to consume your prunes, you can know that there are hardworking American families behind it.
Cooking, baking, and simply eating prunes also goes well beyond their attributes as a, ahem, digestive aid, and that they are more versatile than meets the eye. From a health standpoint, they have potassium, antioxidants, iron, and Vitamin A. They are good for bone health, and so much more. They can be part of a healthy diet, and as we learned in our cooking experience in California, where we got to cook at the Napa CIA (OMG!), we all teamed up to create our own recipes with dried plums. My group created a vegan sweet potato falafel with a plum dipping sauce. So beyond adding them to baking, they can be incorporated into savory dishes as well for an added element.
With my favorite way to utilize plums still being baking, I wanted to create an easy skillet snack cake that would be moist and delicious, peppery and light from the ginger, and just as comforting to enjoy with tea or your morning cup of coffee.
I’m so proud to have this recipe in my kitchen, knowing I will make it for years to come, and be able to reminisce about my time in the orchards of California, and that every dried plum used is grown with love and care.
Ginger Prune Skillet Snack Cake
- 1 cup Prunes
- ¾ cup Sugar
- 3 Eggs
- ½ cup Vegetable Oil
- 1 tsp Vanilla
- 2 Tbsp Fresh Grated Ginger
- 2 Tbsp minced Crystalized Ginger
- 1 ¾ cup Flour
- 1 tsp Baking Soda
- 1 tsp Nutmeg
- 1 tsp Allspice
- 1 ½ tsp Cinnamon
- ¾ cup Whole Milk, or Buttermilk
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 10 inch cast iron skillet with non-stick spray. You can also use a 9×13 inch baking dish if desired. This will alter the cooking times however.
In a small sauce pan, add in the prunes. Cover them with water and bring to a simmer for five minutes. Drain the water, and mash the prunes slightly. Set them aside to cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, oil, and vanilla, grated ginger, and crystalized ginger. In another large bowl, whisk together the remaining dry ingredients. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just mixed. Do not overwork.
Pour the batter into the skillet. The batter should come about 2/3 of the way up the sides of the skillet, but not more.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, checking at 35, and every five minutes after to ensure that it is just cooked, but not over cooked. Remove it from the oven and place it on a wire cooling rack. Wait until completely cool to slice and serve. Dust with powdered sugar prior to serving if desired.
*Fine print * I was compensated for my time to visit Napa with the California Prune Board, as well as for this recipe. All opinions are my own.