Anyone meeting my Finnish mother in law Tuulikki for the first time might mistake her for a fairy. She wears flowing purple clothes, scarves and always speaks as if she is relaying a magical fairytale. She is drawn to the amethyst shade like a bee to a flower and buying gifts for her is easy-make it purple, flowing and or crushed velvet with perhaps an Indian motif and she will be delighted.
She told us about a good friend that she met a couple of years ago. They struck up a conversation because well, they were wearing pretty much the same outfit. Sensing a kindred spirit, she was delighted that she had found a friend on the ferry. Except the way that she speaks, I thought that she was saying that she had found a friend and that she was a _fairy. _Plus, I was all prepared to believe that. As you do...
Every time I think of this season's sugar plums I think of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and I think that this is why I hold these sweet white dusted plums with such enjoyment and affection. The season doesn't last that long and yet these sweet little green or amber fleshed bon bons are one of the things that quietly and without fuss, lull me into the cooler weather of autumn.
Buying two boxes of these, I realised that I couldn't eat all of these before I went away so I decided to preserve some by drying them. Years ago, I had a food dehydrator which I think is still at my parent's house, buried underneath a mound of discarded small appliances.
I first soaked the sugar plums in a mixture of honey and water-this is used to prevent the fruit from discolouring in place of sulfur dioxide (pre treating is not strictly necessary given the dark amethyst shade of the plums but I'd recommend it for lighter coloured fruit and the flavour with the honey is superb and better than just cut plums). I then baked them in a slow oven for ten hours, leaving them overnight. The level of dryness is up to you. I don't like mine too chewy so ten hours is perfect for me. If you like them dryer, by all means, bake them for longer.
The next morning, I lifted a barely warm half of the sugar plum to my lips. I had dried them cut side up so that all of the juices would remain within the fruit and what I was rewarded with was fruit so lusciously good, the flavour concentrated in one bite that I took another and another eating until I was called from my sweet haze by a noise from outside. It may have been the sugar plums fairies calling but it was actually Tuulikki calling on the phone.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you like dried fruit? And what's the least used appliance in your house? And the most used appliance?
Dried sugar plums or prunes
500 grams/1 pound firm sugar plums or plums (other stone fruit works well too but you will have to adjust times for larger fruit like peaches or pears)
1/2 cup honey (you can also use orange juice if you are watching calories)
1/2 cup water
You will also need a wire metal cake cooling rack or I used the insert from a roasting tin.
Tip: Firm fruit is better to dry than softer, overripe fruit.
Serving suggestion: these are perfect for a cheese plate. You can also bake these for eight hours and they would be perfect in a dessert.
Step 1 - Halve the fruit and remove the seed. I found that with sugar plums, the best place to cut them in half was along the seam which made the stone easier to remove. I much preferred the halves to the quarters as they were more luscious and the latter were drier but you can bake the quarters for a shorter time. Mix the honey and water in a container and mix to combine. Place the fruit overnight in this mixture tossing to coat. I actually left these for more than a day baking them the next evening.
Step 2 - Preheat oven to 75C/167F. Line a baking tray with parchment and fit a drying or cake rack over it. Place plums cut side up and bake for ten hours. Open the oven door once or twice while baking to let the steam escape.