**This post was sponsored by the California Dried Plum Board. As always, all opinions expressed are 100% my own.***

A couple weeks ago I headed west.

Winters, California to be exact.

Like many of us, I had no idea that Northern California was home to farmers that produced plums. But not just any plums. I was there to learn about the extraordinary dried plum.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, why prunes? No one wants to eat a prune that’s reserved for our grandparents. Believe me, I used to think the same thing. The truth: I fell in love with the whole prune making process. From the farmers to the orchards to the health benefits to the culinary masterpieces you can create with a simple prune.

Our first introduction into prunes took place at the CIA in Napa, California. Here we listened to California farmers talk about why they joined the business, how many dried plums they produce a year (Fun Fact: California produces over 100,000 tons of prunes a year!), and why prunes have always been the steady rock in the agriculture business.

Next, we dove a little deeper and actually did a prune pairing. Did you know that prunes pair well with fresh ginger, anchovies, beer, olives, cheese, prosciutto, pomegranates, fresh mint, butternut squash, walnuts, and feta? And that’s just a small portion. Kind of cool, huh? My favorite combo was definitely the pickled ginger.

After our pairing we were put into teams to make a meal in the CIA test kitchen using prunes. Our team ended up making a simple quinoa salad with roasted cauliflower, prunes, feta, olives, and lemon vinaigrette. Simple, yes, but full of flavor I might add!

Once we concluded our cooking session, we had a chance to dine in the courtyard of the CIA. Chef Peter Sidwell made a meal with – spoiler alert, prunes! First course: crostini of squash, roasted walnut and goat curd with a squash veloute and pickled California prunes. Second course: spiced rump of lamb with rhubarb and California prune compote with labneh and pomegranate. Third course: California prune and lime bakewell.

In true California fashion we ended our first day at prune school with a beautiful dinner outside the CIA Greystone. This gorgeous meal was prepared by Chef Peter Sidwell and Chef Barbara Alexander. Again the meal featured prunes in a culinary explosion. Personal favorite was the Braised Rabbit, California prune and local cider pie with “Waldorf” remoulade.

The next morning we were early to rise because it was time to walk in a prune farmers shoes. Did you know that there is a particular plum tree that produces prunes? Yep, yep. The French Improved is the go-to seed when a farmer wants to produce the best prunes. The reason why is when these plums fall to the ground they don’t spoil!

Walking through the plum orchards was truly a unique experience. Just think one plum tree can produce over 400lbs plums which means lots of prunes in your future.

Like these Mini Cardamom and Dried Prune Ricotta Cakes. Why have one cake when you can have five mini cakes? The ricotta helps keeps the cake fluffy while the prunes add a hint of sweetness without the all the extra sugar. Plus, the addition of cardamom elevates this simple cake to brunch approved status.

So, what you think? Have I convinced you to try prunes? To learn more about prunes and the California Dried Plum Board make sure to check out their website and facebook page!

Mini Cardamom and Dried Plum Ricotta Cakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup California prunes, roughly chopped
  • Confectioners sugar, garnish

Directions:

  1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 mini (4-inch cake rounds), 2 mini (5-inch cake rounds), 1 4×6 mini loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. If you want you can replace the mini cake pans and use one 9-inch cake round.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients. In another large bowl combine eggs, ricotta, vanilla extract and butter. Slowly combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. Once combined, fold in the California prunes.
  3. Next, divide the batter among the mink cake pans or pour all the batter into the 9-inch cake. Bake the mini cakes for about 30 minutes and the whole cake for about 55 minutes or until an a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  4. Once cooked remove from oven and allow to cool completely before serving and dusting tops with confections sugar.
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