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Redneck Raisins

October 3, 2012

Dry and smoky.  That’s about it these days.  Though, while others are lamenting the lack of rain, I’m using this time to get stuff done.  Our fall can either be dry like this, or wet.  I feel like I am on borrowed time for getting dry weather chores done.  I’m still doing chores sans rubber boots.  And it’s been warm enough to not build a fire, although it was frosty this morning at milking time.

One good thing about a dry fall is that there is a good chance that the Italian prunes will get ripe.  That is if they happened to set fruit.  I haven’t canned or dried prunes since 2009 according to my canning records, sometimes there is no fruit set, or like last year, the fall rains ruined the crop.  I have been worrying about these prunes getting ripe since the trees blossomed.  Time to quit worrying and to start working.

Italian Prunes – Fellenberg strain

Italian prunes were a big crop in the Pacific Northwest.  The premium drying prune/plum is not your grocery store dried prune.  They are delicious.  Tart and sweet and dry, not like the tasteless, moist packaged prunes.  They also were a big crop in our town in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as attested to in this obituary from William W. Northway.

In March 1890, Mr. Northway came to Portland and went into partnership with Lige Chamberlain at Corbett (then called Van’s Landing), on a fruit and hay ranch. In September they harvested a ton of prunes a day, dried and sold them for 12 cents a pound.

A ton a day of prunes is a lot of prunes.  We’re not anywhere close to that for harvesting.  But we have quite a few, and it’s a good thing if they have to last to the next good harvest which may not be next year.  So with that in mind, we’ve been gorging on fresh prunes besides freezing, drying, juicing and canning prunes.

Trace – guarder of all prunes

“I could use a prune about now.”

Are you familiar with Italian prunes?  Or do you have a different favorite plum cultivar in your area?

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41 Comments leave one →
  1. jenj permalink
    October 3, 2012 9:22 am

    Oh my, I love your beautiful outdoor work station! Unfortunatley, around here the plums that we have get ripe in mid to late June, when temps are nearing 100. So any fruit that isn’t consumed immediately after it comes off the tree… wait, that’s never happened. I have no idea what I would do if I actually had to STORE plums!

    • October 3, 2012 9:36 am

      Jenj, I get stir crazy in the house! The picnic table that never was, we rarely have picnics but it sure comes in handy for a place to work and pile stuff. The October sun is the best here, bright and warm, but not hot. Geez fruit in June! It’s still raining here and we are just starting to pick strawberries – what a difference!

  2. October 3, 2012 9:26 am

    Wow that top view is absolutely breathtaking! Here in Missouri they have a native plum resembling a sand plum. Small, yellow and sweet they make a great jam and grow in most old fence lines and such. I grow the standard red plum like you would find in the supermarket also. Some years I have made a plum wine with them that is really good.

    • October 3, 2012 9:45 am

      Canned Quilter, google Chanticleer Point for more images taken when the weather is clear. I’s a pretty fantastic view and as long as I have lived here I have never tired of it. That spot is several miles from my house, so I get to see it often. 🙂

      My hubby wants to make Slivovitz, but I don’t know if that will happen or not…gotta make the wine first 🙂 Your plums sound delicious!

  3. October 3, 2012 9:27 am

    How do you dry them?

    • October 3, 2012 9:48 am

      Brad, I was gifted an old electric dryer from a large family whose children were grown. I don’t use it much, and we used to dry them in the sun on the roof, but lately in the last 15 years or so, with it being colder, they don’t ripen in time for the hot weather.

  4. October 3, 2012 9:27 am

    I love Italian prunes! We had a prune tree where I grew up, between Seattle and Tacoma, and my mom canned them every year (I don’t remember them not setting fruit). One of my neighbors had at least a dozen along one of his farm fields; they did very well in the area.

    I live in an apartment now, but was lucky enough to find a box of prunes to can (14 quarts), eat fresh, and dry (everything left over!).

    I love following your blog. You describe the kind of lifestyle I grew up with, and what I want to get back to. I especially appreciate the blogs you wrote while canning. How did you find the time?

    • October 3, 2012 9:53 am

      Nancy, oh my there is nothing like an Italian prune! I think our fruit set has to do with us being on the western slope of the Cascades, we’re about two weeks behind PDX weather-wise and many days we are clouded over too. When we get them, we store up as many as we can, they are so good. I like to use them in place of raisins in baked goods, and my favorite way to eat them is half thawed from the freezer 😀

      Blogging and canning kind of go together – I have to be in the house, so why not peck away at the keyboard. Yesterday I fit pitting prunes in between moving beef cows and milking. No time to be blogging then for sure. But I did take pictures and throw damaged prunes to the dogs – what a way to spend a sunny October afternoon 🙂

  5. October 3, 2012 9:34 am

    Love your new header photo – very nice. I’ve always had a thing for older windows…

    My fingers were stained for days after my big prune run. This year is the first time I ever made anything buy jam, and made both pickled prunes and plum pie filling.

    I had never had a plum pie, and I have to say it’s one of my new faves. I feel a little cheated that I didn’t think of it earlier, because our prunes are finished now and I only have 5 quarts. That’s just 5 pies to get me through ’till next year!

    I love the prune jam as a filling in King Arthur Flour’s recipe for hot milk cake. I make it in 2 layers, spread a generous layer of prune jam between the layers, sprinkle with powdered sugar. If you like your cake in a bowl with milk, this is a good recipe for you : )

    Better get busy making use of some dry days myself – I’m waiting for my tomatoes to finish roasting so I can get on with things…

    • October 3, 2012 9:59 am

      AMF, unfortunately I just missed Jane eating those hops! Just what I need a self-medicating cow. Hoppy milk anyone?

      Oh my gosh, I love anything prune, they are so good, and the dogs are eating them like a house afire. I thing I’m going to work up some for them for winter. Spoiled brats!

      Man, I’m done with tomato canning, finally, now I am just trying to consume as much Salsa Fresca that I can before the frost gets the cilantro!

      • October 3, 2012 10:36 am

        Sounds like an interesting idea to me… I always a fan of a good white russian, lol. Jane might be onto something…

        I screwed up so many provisioning projects by getting a late start in my garden. This is the first time I ever started my own seeds, and I started too late. So, I missed cucumbers entirely, my tomato harvest just started about the end of August. I’m putting up tomatoes that aren’t quite peak of ripeness and while they still beat anything I can buy at the store, I know I could have done better.

        I made up for it in zucchini, my strawberries are pretty exciting, and my beets were beautiful. Turnips are doing great, nice pumpkins less about 1/2 the harvest due to groundhogs.

        It’s humbling to try for the first time to live as you do. I used to be a competent adult, and now I’m barely as useful as an Amish 12 year old : )

        • October 3, 2012 11:31 am

          Well, that can’t be that bad Amish 12 year olds are pretty handy!

          As for Jane, I should check her ID I think…she’s only 28 months old 😉

          Gee, I just got my last pickles made the other day, and good thing, because the plants got frosted pretty hard last night! I’m picking the last of green tomatoes today and then peppers and then I think I’m turning the sheep into the greenhouse for clean-up. The covers are coming off this weekend I hope. Then I can get my cover crop seeded in the greenhouse!

          No worries about your provisioning, it’s always feast or famine and there is always an abundance of something worthwhile!

  6. October 3, 2012 9:43 am

    There are all sorts of plums around us, red ones, purple ones, yellow ones etc. but absolutely no idea of what variety any of them are. Our plum trees were doing okay until last winter when they all but died off and we thought we had lost the lot, along with pears and apple trees – all only in their third winter. The good news is that the plums have bounced back but not sure if they are from the rootstock – if they had a rootstock or from a graft. I’ll tell you if we ever get fruit from them

    • October 3, 2012 9:55 am

      Joanna, how awful! Hopefully they will take off, and sometimes the root stock for plums provides some pretty decent fruit!

      • October 3, 2012 11:09 am

        That’s what we are hoping for and playing the waiting game. We are also working on the theory that those that survived the catastrophe are probably the best suited for the area anyway,

  7. Martha permalink
    October 3, 2012 9:45 am

    We eat pioneer plum pie every fall…whole wheat crust thickened with tapioca or flour and sweetened with honey…yum!

  8. October 3, 2012 10:29 am

    I love Italian prunes. We didn’t get any last year due to a badly timed frost followed by a wind storm. This year has made up for it. We have been eating them here for the last three weeks and I now need to get the ladder out to get the ones on top down. Is there any special method for freezing them? I’m going to can some in light syrup, but freezing sounds easier.

    • October 3, 2012 11:28 am

      Lucky Robin, I just pit, and freeze them. They are the easiest to pit to of all fruits (I think anyway)if you cut down the seam and split, I pitted 65 pounds yesterday in about an hour and a half! I freeze a few bags of pre-frozen on trays so I can pull out a few for desserts, but the rest I put in small bags and use them for snacks, better than a popsicle and so easy to do a bunch that way.

      • October 3, 2012 11:49 am

        Well, that’s just as simple as can be. The one thing I saw for it was to freeze it in syrup and I’d rather not do that as they are really sweet enough as is. I like your method much better. I thought I might have to blanch or something if I froze them as is, but just pit and freeze is the way I’ll go now. Thanks!

  9. October 3, 2012 10:49 am

    One miserable fall in boarding school, a bright point was when someone local donated 200 lbs of Italian plums to the school. Volunteers to pit the plums were rewarded with points – enough points and you could earn a weekend home. I pitted 150 lbs of plums. And had the stained, scratched thumbs to prove it. And I got my weekend home. The plums got cooked and frozen and we had them for many meals at school – fruit crumble was served as stewed fruit from one bowl and dry crumble to spoon on top from another bowl, and it was a standby dessert at least once a week.

    We had about 10 Italian plums on the fenceline between our farm and the neighbour when i was growing up, relics from when the whole place was one farm and a good portion of our garden area was part of the “other” orchard. Those trees were cankered and black and eventually stopped leafing out completely and became firewood. When my husband and I moved back here, we planted a golden plum which bears well in July every other year. We eat them fresh till we’re sick of them, and some go into jam. This year, I’ve frozen some to try making plum sauce “when I get time”.

    • October 3, 2012 2:20 pm

      SSF, what a great story! A well deserved weekend home for your hard work 🙂

      Your old orchard story sound the same as here…my garden is where the prunes used to be. The old ones are all gone now except 3 seedling children from the originals and a new double row forming the path to the greenhouse and dividing up the two gardens. The old timers ripen sooner than the newcomers 😦 And sometimes none of them ripen!

  10. dale case permalink
    October 3, 2012 1:09 pm

    I have three dehydrators running non-stop. Today the wind is blowing very hard, so I’m pretty sure the ground under the prune tree is solid blue. If so, that means there could be 150 lbs. to pick up. I dry them after they fall, as those are the ripest.
    A few years ago a friend taught me to oven roast them. They are the most amazing things ever. Some vanilla yogurt and roasted prunes is beyond description. Mostly I freeze the roasted ones. Canning changes the flavor a little.
    Processing prunes is more important than sleep because, like you say, next year there may be none and they are precious Winter food for me.

    • October 3, 2012 2:16 pm

      Dale, we’re escaping the wind, but they are dropping more and more. I was just reading a German plum butter recipe and the prunes were roasted…although with cloves etc. No one here likes cloves or spiced fruit so I thought I might roast some with a vanilla bean or two and the scrapings. You have convinced me I should do that! I agree on the canning…not my favorite flavor but my freezer is getting stuffed. Pork in a couple of days and my kid just traipsed in with a basket of broccoli!

      Thanks for the idea! signed Sleepless in Prune Land;)

  11. October 3, 2012 3:09 pm

    When we lived in Portland, before we moved to our farm, we had an Italian Plum tree in the back yard. It gave us plums every year once it started bearing. A single tree can give you a crazy amount of those plums. And the taste is just amazing! I wanted to take it with us to our current farm, but the tree was too big and we probably would have killed it. I hope the family living there now enjoys it as much as we did. The funny thing is that we have planted close to 200 fruit trees here at our new place and I just realized not a single one was an Italian Plum! Guess next year we’re going to have 201 trees. Or 202…

    • October 3, 2012 3:46 pm

      Linda, I’m jealous of that Portland climate sometimes 😦 Sometimes…

      I think you better get one or two!

  12. CarolG permalink
    October 3, 2012 4:19 pm

    Try making plum curd, I don’t have a recipe but is pretty much like lemon curd with plums as the flavoring ingredient. This also makes a wonderful frozen dessert. All the other ideas sound really great too.

  13. michellem permalink
    October 3, 2012 5:55 pm

    We are knee deep in the Italian prunes as well. I almost mean that literally;) I love the idea of roasting them and making the curd. I will have to try that.

    • October 3, 2012 8:21 pm

      Michellem, it’s such a good idea – and I have too many pullet eggs too, so curd will be perfect 🙂

  14. Susan permalink
    October 3, 2012 6:34 pm

    I think we’re about 3 weeks ahead of you with all the fruit trees, since I had my Italian prune-canning marathon just about that long ago! Like many have said, there were several trees here on the farmstead when we moved here, but alas, they seemed to be intentionally planted just below the remains of the septic tank, and intended to soak up enough moisture to hide the fact that there was no functioning drainfield….. We planted a new tree when we had to cut the old ones down, and this year it blessed us with 17 quarts and 7 pints of canned halves, 6 pints of plum-ginger preserves and 8 half-pints of unsweetened plum butter. Between that and the 47 quarts of pears from a single tree, I feel SO rich this fall!
    Now, back to the tomato wars…. I’m a good 3 weeks BEHIND you on that score! 😉

    • October 9, 2012 9:19 am

      Susan, I found your comment in the spam folder, that’s why I’m so late replying 😦

      You know, our prunes used to be earlier than October, our summers have been getting colder and colder and late spring too. Still picking prunes today! And the last of tomatoes and corn are coming out today hopefully! Your pantry sounds like it is full of delicious goods, which always makes winter a little easier 🙂

  15. Bee permalink
    October 3, 2012 7:43 pm

    Nita, your plums look wonderful! I have a bunch of Damson plum trees that are probably fifty-plus years old. They bear alternately and this was a light year so I wasn’t expecting much. But they got fireblight quite badly, so I don’t know how well they’ll do next year, either. This was a bad year for fireblight on our place — it even looks to me as though the wild elderberries have it, and I didn’t realize it affected elderberries…

    • October 3, 2012 8:34 pm

      Bee, wow that’s bad if it got to the elderberries too 😦 Damsons are nice, we have some wild plums here similar to a Damson, in the hedgerows, but I have no idea what they are. Tiny, purple and very sour – but they make excellent jam and the blossoms are nice for early beneficials since there isn’t much else blooming when they do.

      Hopefully your trees will come out of it next year.

  16. Deairdre Miller permalink
    October 3, 2012 7:50 pm

    These are the ones I grew up with! I have been missing them so much until this year when we got some from a friend. Of course, I grew up just south of Corvallis and am now in the Cascade foothills. Can’t get enough of ’em.

    • October 3, 2012 8:34 pm

      Deairdre Miller, I know what you mean, they are so good, and nothing compares to an Italian prune. 🙂

  17. October 4, 2012 6:07 am

    Not a lot of plums here. Lots of fruit flies though. Can’t imagine plum halves laying out in the sun.

  18. October 9, 2012 6:12 am

    Italian prunes grow on a lot of the old homesteads in Northern California. They seem healthy and constant, so no wonder. I decided last year that they are the best dried fruit I’ve ever eaten. I was trying to figure out what they taste like and finally nailed it down to red vines, the red licorice sticks. We have a about 4 gallons dried in the pantry this year… a good year for plums. I’ve planted some on our place and more on the way. Mine are not completely freestone though, which you’re most be if you can do them that fast. I spend more time getting the pit out than cutting them open. I think the ones I pick may be seedlings. maybe I should get some cuttings from you. Do yours taste like red vines? They have to taste like red vines or I don’t want ’em.

    • October 9, 2012 8:14 am

      Stevene, they should be freestone even from seed – we have some seedlings, some new, and some old timers left. All freestone. The only difference I see in the seedlings are the thorns. The other wildings we have aren’t freestone and we leave those for the coyotes – like you say too much work!

      I don’t think of red vines when I eat them…and we are red vine likers here.

      • October 9, 2012 9:39 am

        Hmmm…. maybe I have a special clingstone red vine cultivar.

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