Cosi Bella: Italian Prune Plums

The long Labor Day weekend began when I took the Butter Bitch to the airport and returned home to paint inside our house. I did not think about today’s post until Sunday evening, when the bathroom had been painted and the closet was scraped clean. I thought of making lard, or buying lard, or going on a chocolate tour, but without advance preparation my plans were unlikely to bear fruit. Normally, I cook fish when the Butter Bitch is away, and I thought of writing about the Northwest’s bountiful salmon.

Unfortunately, our local Co-op had no local salmon, defeating my inspiration for the coming week. I wandered through the produce section, tired from a long, hot weekend, and my eyes espied a mound of purple inspiration. The fruits were labeled “Italian Prune Plums,” but more importantly, the fruit looked just like the ripe plums growing in our back yard.

I returned home and dug up an excellent recipe in the blogosphere, to make for the Butter Bitch’s return on Monday.

The Butter Bitch guessed that the fruit was either plums or prunes, and unbeknownst to her she was right on both counts. Monday morning, I took a bowl to our back yard and filled it with plums. I knew they were ripe, because I had tried one the week before.

The Italian Prune Plum is slightly tart, with firm flesh, and is not very juicy. Our plum trees (we have two) may be Early Italians, aka Richards, but I don’t have a picture of Early Italians to confirm that. The Early Italian originated near Yakima, Washington, while the Italian Prune Plum is an old world species. Both varietals are late bloomers and grow on cold hardy trees. Additionally, Italians are mite resistant, a benefit I hope not to need.

Jessica, over at Kitchen Heat, has this to say about the Italian Prune Plum:

The glory of the Italian Prune Plum lies in its size. Because it is small, and less juicy than other plums, when it is baked, it concentrates in flavor and texture, so that the fruit maintains more of its shape, and because there is less liquid, the flavor is more intense.

She is dead-on regarding the intensity of flavor.

After enjoying several plums in the back yard, I took them inside and washed them for use in a crisp. Much to my surprise, the bowl contained twice as many plums as the 6 cups needed for making crisp. Fortunately, we have a book on preserves that includes recipes for spiced plum jam, and we will be making plum jam soon.

I followed Jessica’s recipe closely, but varied on two points. Unlike Jessica, I had ground cardamom but I did not have walnuts. I substituted finely chopped almonds for walnuts. According to the Butter Bitch, nuts are interchangeable when it comes to crisps. She may be wrong in her “nut-agnosticism,” but in this case the crisp worked well with the almonds, which are milder and sweeter than walnuts. The walnuts might have made the dessert less sweet and more savory. We have plenty of plums with which to find out.

The crisp was intensly tart and sweet, the perfect dessert to remind one of the passing of summer and the approach of autumn.

9 Responsesto “Cosi Bella: Italian Prune Plums”

  1. Omniwhore says:

    I LOVE Italian prune plums. I had a girlfriend once who cut down these gorgeous Italian prune plum trees that were in her yard. I truly believe that this is the reason we broke up.

    I wonder why there are so many prune plum trees in Ballard as opposed to elsewhere in Seattle. I’m basing this question off of five or six actual observations, so I admit it isn’t scientific.

    They are yummy in pies, too.

  2. Man of La Muncha says:

    Beats me! :^)

    It might be that they are hardy enough to withstand the cold breezes off the Sound.

    In addition to Ballard’s large Scandinavian population, we also have a lot of Italian-Americans (and a lot of Italian places–mmmmm!). Cascioppo Brothers was founded roughly a century ago. I suspect that the Italian immigrants brought the Italian prune plums with them.

  3. Jessica says:

    I just stumbled across your post – and link to my site. I’m so glad you tried the recipe, it’s a great one. I agree that nuts are somewhat interchangeable, but they undoubtedly affect the flavor. I believe walnuts would add more crunch than almonds, but I’m sure it was wonderful with almonds too – I believe almonds and stone fruits are a classic pairing anyways?

    Cheers! Great to stumble upon your site, too! I’ll be back often.


  4. Man of La Muncha says:

    Thank you for the kind words and, of course, the recipe.

    You make a good point about the crackly crunchiness of walnuts. Now that we have an abundance of walnuts, I intend to try the crisp again.

  5. Jack Abel says:

    I have two mature Italian Prune trees and just harvested tons of fruit.
    I have a dehydrator and would like to dry the fruit and have prunes (with the seed in it is fine).
    Can the fruit be just put into the dehydrator or does it need to be preped? I am having no luck on the net about this.
    Prunes that you buy in the market are not cut so how do the commercial food people dry them?
    Thanks for any help.

  6. Man of La Muncha says:

    Jack – I’ve never dried prunes, but I found a publication from UC Davis that recommends “crazing” prunes to soften their tough, waxy skin and allow the moisture to escape.

    The document (PDF format) is at

    Aside from washing the prunes, you should dip them in boiling water for 1 or 2 minutes. If they are very ripe, as mine are, I would dip them for only 1 minute.

    Let us know how they turn out!

  7. Grandma had a prune tree. She lived just off Chain Drive, which comes off Market a few blocks before you get to 15th NW. It seemed really big when I was 10. Our prune tree here on the sunnier side of the state is only about 10 feet tall. I’m trying to find a recipe for prune butter like Grandma McGladrey used to make. I think it just had prunes, sugar and cinammon. Any one have one?

  8. Butter Bitch says:

    Prune butter? That sounds fabulous (and like a great way to use some of the prunes we’ve frozen). Anyone?

  9. Ness says:

    MMMM…my grandma makes the best best plum butter. I wish I had her recipe to share with your. I have a jar of it around here somewhere waiting for a snow day. Here is a link to one version—I know my grandma says NOT to ignore the lemon juice in any preserves.