I’ll get it out of the way at the beginning. Prunes. What a gag – the only dried fruit that’s also a punchline. But look beyond the stale connotations; the sturdy, unglamorous zipper bag they come in; their lowly position on supermarket shelves, and you will see a quiet hero that’s always been a trusted partner to classic flavours that’s now, whisper it, edging cautiously back into the spotlight; its sweet, rich, true voice just as startlingly good as it’s always been – except no one was listening before.
Think of the prunes in red wine with mascarpone at Etto, the highlight of every Instagrammer’s visit to the Merrion Row restaurant. Or consider the segment in the ‘Home Cooking’ episode of Ugly Delicious on Netflix [a must-watch – it’s like Bon Appétit in a programme] where Nadine Levy Redzepi serves David Chang & co macerated prunes during a cosy meal chez Redzepi – apparently she makes a jar of Armagnac prunes for her husband René every year on his birthday.
Watching him spoon the thick, rich, caramel-like liquid off a jar of prunes that had been macerated back in 2015, I decided I wanted to start my own jar of drunken prunes. And since it’s a classic, and I’d been thinking about it for weeks, I went all out and bought the Armagnac, which is quite unlike me. That said, please do note that brandy or cognac would work just fine either – really the most important ingredient here is time. And although the prunes are fine to eat – wonderful to eat! – after just five days or so, they’re only going to get better as the weeks and months go on. In fact, the longer you leave them, the more thick, syrupy and exquisite the liquor around them will become. So, prunes. Play it again, Sam. And stop laughing at the back.
PRUNES IN ARMAGNAC
Makes 1 medium-sized jar. After a few days (or, better yet, weeks) have elapsed, these will make a great, handy stand-by dessert – just serve a couple per portion with some of the liquor and a good dollop of thick, best-quality yoghurt or crème fraîche.
1-2 Earl Grey teabags
3 level tbsps caster sugar
250ml Armagnac, cognac or brandy
500ml boiling water
Sterilise a medium-sized kilner jar by rinsing with very boiling water and drying in the oven or cleaning in the dishwasher. Place the prunes in a bowl. Pop one Earl Grey teabag into the 500ml boiling water and leave to brew for a few minutes, adding the second only if it seems weak to the taste. Pour the Earl Grey tea over the prunes and leave to soak for 20 minutes. Drain off the liquid and transfer them to the sterilised kilner jar. Use a vegetable peeler to remove all of the zest from the lemon in long strips. Add these to the jar too. Sprinkle the sugar over the prunes then pour the liquour over the lot. Close the lid and shake it very gently to dissolve the sugar. Push the prunes down below the level of the liquid; do so every day for a few days, then just leave the jar somewhere cool and dark and let the magic happen.