About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Friday, July 28, 2006
Weekend Herb Blogging # 43
I don't think that I have ever given any recipes for preserving, even though it is one of the cooking things that I like to do, so I thought that I would share with you a particular favourite of mine. It's based on prunes so I guess it's rather like a preserved preserve. With everyone sweltering in the Northern Hemisphere and not looking to cook much, this could be just the thing, for it's really great when made into an icecream, mixed into softened icecream or just put on top of icecream, adding an adult dimension, which means more for you and less for the kids!

Plum trees under the right conditions are usually quite fecund, producing far more fruit than can comfortably be eaten. There are two traditional ways to deal with the surplus - jam making and drying. In common with many chillies that change name when dried, when plums are dried they are referred to as prunes. In this form they have many uses around the kitchen, both in savoury dishes such as a tagine, and in baking and sweet dishes, prunes are also quite nice just to snack on, though one should be careful not to eat too many as they are a good cure for constipation!

For some dishes prunes need to be rehydrated and this brings me to the subject of this week's herb blogging being hosted by the redoubtable Kalyn from Kalyn's Kitchen. For in this particular preserve, the prunes are rehydrated in tea, giving an extra flavour dimension.

Tea is made from the dried leaves of a shrub, Camellia sinensis, that is native to Southeast Asia. The earliest record of cultivation is in the 4th century A.D. in China and the methods used to infuse tea evolved slowly over six or seven hundred years from about the 8th century A.D. Initially tea was formed into cakes and then boiled, then came powdering the leaf and whipping it in hot water. During the Ming dynasty from 1368 to 1644, steeping sprigs of tea in hot water became the norm and this was how the West was introduced to tea. Tea became part of the spice trade and eventually came to England, where it displaced beer as the preferred breakfast drink. Don't laugh, for the reason beer was so widely drunk was that it was safer to drink than the water, which at that time had become contaminated through a lack of understanding hygiene. How quickly it caught on can be shown through trade figures. In 1700, England imported 9,000 tonnes of tea, by 1800 this had jumped to 9,000,000 tonnes.

The tea shrub grows best in the tropics and subtropics, with the best teas grown at high altitudes. After the tea is picked it is then treated to produce four different types - green tea, black tea, oolong and scented teas. In the West, we are most familiar with black tea. This is produced in four different stages beginning with withering to remove some moisture then rolling the leaf to crush the leaf cells and mix the many chemical components, this is what gives all the colour, flavour and astringency in the finished tea.

Next comes the fermentation. While it's not a fermentation in the true sense of the word, for there is no yeast or other microbes involved, it has a transforming effect, changing the leaves to a coppery brown and the colourless, flavourless phenolic substances into pigment molecules that are also astringent. This transformation is caused by polyphenoloxidase, the same enzyme that causes browning in many fruits and vegetables. After this fermentation, the leaves are then 'fired' or dried at about 93 c (200 f) until the moisture content is about 5%. The tea is then graded.

Far and away the greatest use for tea is as a beverage, but it also has some other uses around the kitchen. It can be used for smoking, as in tea smoked duck and it can also be used as a flavouring, as it is in the following recipe, where it is used to rehydrate prunes. It is a lovely combination of prunes with brandy, where both the prunes and the liquid are used up in whatever form you choose to serve them. It keeps very well in the pantry and can be turned into a dessert with ice-cream in seconds. If you happen to have an ice-cream maker, you can chop and add the prunes and some liquor near the end of churning, or you could soften some ice-cream and mix this in. Heaven.


1 kg (2.2 lb) prunes
1.7 l (3 pt) water
4 tea bags
350 g (12 oz) sugar
500 ml (18 fl oz) brandy

Bring the water to a boil in a pot, take off the heat and add the tea bags, infuse for five minutes. Add the prunes, cover and leave overnight. Meanwhile put the sugar and 100 ml (3.5 fl oz) water in a pot and bring to the boil, cool and refridgerate.

The next day, strain the prunes and put them into a glass jar or jars. Mix the brandy with the sugar syrup and pour over. Leave for a month before using. Keeps indefinitely
  posted at 7:53 am

At 1:26 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The tea to rehydrate sounds really good. I can think how several different teas would add a lot to some different dried fruits. I will do some experimenting with this.

At 2:58 pm, Blogger Kalyn Denny said...

Very interesting topic. I love prunes, especially the ones they sell here with a slight lemon twist to them. I bet this is just yummy on ice cream!

At 9:11 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi tanna, I didn't think to use scented teas, what a good idea!

Hi kalyn, prunes with a lemon twist? Not here, or maybe I need to look harder. It's very scrummy on ice-cream.

At 11:06 am, Blogger Ruth Daniels said...

I wonder how prunes would work with Earl Grey tea...I guess I'll have to try it out....dried apricots are another favorite dried fruit that does well rehydrated.

Neil thanks for sharing, now I have some new tricks to try out.


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