1. A prune is simply a dried plum, the word coming from the Latin prunum for "plum." The French, however, call a fresh plum prune, while their word for prune is pruneau. To further complicate matters, after this dried fruit had been known as a prune for centuries, in 2001 American prune growers got Food and Drug Administration approval to call prunes "dried plums." Which, of course, they always have been, so why change a good thing? Because growers were hoping that consumers who saw prunes as medicinal food, to be eaten only when necessary, would now see "dried plums" not only as healthful and nutritional but also more appealing. Today U.S. labels list both names, while exported fruit is still sold as "prunes." This venerable dried fruit can be traced back to Roman times and has long been a popular northern European winter favorite because it can be stored without problem. Although any plum can become a prune, those with the greatest flavor, sweetness and firmness are best suited for that use. Commercial dehydration has replaced sun-drying as the primary production method. Though the best prunes are found in the fall, they're available year-round and come in various sizes (small, medium, large, extra large and jumbo). When purchasing prunes look for those that are slightly soft and somewhat flexible. They should have a bluish-black skin and be blemish-free. Store them airtight in a cool, dry place (or refrigerate) for up to six months. Prunes can be eaten out of hand or used in a variety of sweet and savory dishes. Prune purée, which can be found in jars in most supermarkets, is broadly touted (primarily by the California Prune Board) as a fat substitute. In baked goods, substituting prune purée for butter or other fat can reduce cholesterol to zero and calories by up to 30 percent. The purée contributes moisture, a slightly chewy texture and a pruny flavor that can range from mild to moderately aggressive, depending on the other flavors in the food. 2. A variety of Italian plum.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.