lekvar: roasted prune plum paste

IMG_8718Forgive me, I wish I had eaten the prune plums, but I had to make lekvar (prune paste) instead.  Lekvar is easy but takes a long time.  If you start with actual dried prunes, it’s much faster, but I was gifted 25 pounds or so windfall fruit from the Friendly Fruit Tree Project to process, so the first step was roasting the fruit to remove liquid and concentrate the sugars.

IMG_8701Once the fruit had been picked over, cleaned, and roasted overnight, I squeezed out the pits and cooked down the puree even longer.  Once it had significantly reduced in size, I milled out the skins and remaining stems, even catching a few errant pits.

IMG_8755If you can, mill on a coarse screen and a fine screen for a silky texture.

Then I added sugar at a 1.5:1 ratio, a cup of sugar for every 1 and a half cups of puree.  This yields a product that isn’t very sweet, but still provides a jam-like feel. And added the juice of a lemon to acidify the mix.  Some people add lemon or orange zest at this point.

IMG_8767I cooked the lekvar down for several more hours, carefully monitoring the bottom of the pan, which is very susceptible to burning.  The stuff thickened and reduced by about a third before I decided it was ready.  And then voilà!  Dark, mysterious prune plum paste for fall.  It can be stored in the refrigerator or frozen, as it’s a bit too thick to be processed safely.

IMG_8732One can use lekvar in so many wonderful ways: to stuff dumplings, fill cookies and Hamantaschen, spread on cheese or cheese crackers, or this, a wondrous creation from the Friuli region of Italy, inspired by Fred Plotkin’s recipe in La Terra Fortunata: The Splendid Food and Wine of Friuli-Venezia Guilia, Italy’s Great Undiscovered Region.  Sguazeto sauce is used on roasted pork, but it makes a nice sticky barbecue sauce, too, for pork chops or a small shoulder roast.  It usually starts with prunes, but prune paste works like a dream.

Sguazeto for Roasted Pork

    • 2 heaping teaspoons pine nuts
    • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
    • 1 teaspoon honey
    • 2 tablespoons. olive oil
    • 1/4 cup lekvar (or, if you don’t have lekvar, substitute 3 Brooks prunes, chopped and plumped up with some wine for 30 minutes, then mashed)
    • 2 tablespoons chicken stock
    • 1 tablespoon. white wine vinegar

Roast the pine nuts and cumin seeds on a medium-high burner until fragrant.  Combine the pine nuts and cumin in a mortar and pound with a pestle until you have a fine paste, then mix with honey and olive oil. Heat mixture with lekvar, chicken stock, and vinegar and simmer for 10 minutes or so until flavors combine.

Roast or grill your meat as desired, dressed simply with salt and pepper. Remove from grill and top with sguazeto just prior to serving, or brush some on in the last 15 minutes of cooking. Garnish with chopped parsley and few whole pinenuts.



joy of linda ziedrich

I am so proud to announce my latest article in the Register-Guard: an interview with Linda Ziedrich and cookbook review of her stellar preservation books, The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves and The Joy of Pickling.  Linda was kind enough to invite me to her farm, and we spent several hours talking about the world of Willamette Valley produce and the terribl(ly delicious) things you can do to it.

One recipe we didn’t have space for was the one I’ve been loving all over.  Raynblest Farms still has big bags of dried Brooks and Italian (aka Fellenberg) prunes for sale at the farmer’s market, so you might want to grab a bag before last year’s crop is gone.  I recommend our native, big, plump Brooks prunes (front and left, versus the less fleshy and more tangy Fellenberg, back and right) for this recipe.  Trust me, it will be worth it.  Once you eat one, you won’t be able to stop.

I tried this recipe side to side with the one posted over at NPR by the author of the blog Orangette, since Molly’s recipe follows that of the terrific artisan picklers from Boat Street.  Let me just say this: the quart of Dolores is gone; the Orangette quart is still mainly full.

The problem with the latter is that you really need more neutral liquid to plump up the prunes when cooking, so Dolores’s addition of poaching water to the vinegar works better to flesh out the fruit so the pickling can infuse it.  The experience isn’t as puckeringly sweet/sour when you eat the prunes as it is when you eat the Orangette version.

Don’t get me wrong, the Orangette prunes would make a great addition, chopped in pieces, to salads and quick breads, perhaps.  The taste is good.  But they can’t be cut in half and wrapped with a piece of bacon and eaten in dangerous quantities because they are the most delicious morsel you’ve ever tasted.

No, they just are no Dolores, our lady of prunes.

Dolores’s Pickled Prunes

Excerpted from The Joy of Pickling, by Linda Ziedrich. (c) 2009, used by permission from The Harvard Common Press.

2 ½ cups (about 1 pound) unpitted prunes
¾ cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices

Put the prunes into a large nonreactive saucepan and cover them with water.  Bring the contents to a boil and then reduce the heat.  Simmer the prunes for 15 to 20 minutes.

Empty the saucepan into a sieve set over a bowl.  Return 1 cup of the cooking liquid to the saucepan (if there isn’t 1 cup liquid, add enough water to make 1 cup).  Add the sugar, vinegar, and spices to the saucepan.  Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and reduce the heat.  Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes.

Add the prunes to the saucepan.  Simmer them for 5 minutes.

Put the prunes and their liquid into a quart jar and cap the jar.  When the jar has cooled, store it in the refrigerator.  After a day or two, the prunes will be ready to eat.  They will keep well for several weeks, at least.