Prune Cake, A Cake to Be baked in Secret (Keeps Well if You Hide It)

prune cake

My mother loved to entertain; she went to elaborate ends preparing for her dinner parties, many of which had international themes-for these foreign affairs, she often employed recipes from the Time-Life Books collection Foods of the World, which came out in 1968.

Though I don’t know its origin, this prune cake was among my favorite desserts that Mom served to her many guests.  I recall her making it in the sixties; perhaps she acquired it from beloved friends, while we were living in Tucson, Arizona, during several winters in this decade.

Its subtitle boasts: A Cake to Bake in Secret (Keeps Well if You Hide It).  How true this is, for this confection melts in one’s mouth, with its butterscotch glaze seeping into the entire cake; thus, it stays moist for weeks, if you don’t eat it first.

In Biblical times, in the hot Mediterranean countries, drying was the most expedient way for preserving fruit and vegetables; grapes became “raisins of the sun”, plums became prunes, dates and figs likewise intensified in flavor as they shriveled up.  There, this basic technology employed the powerful sun, with either spreading the juicy produce out on trays or the rooftop, or burying it in the hot sand; this latter means of preservation became apparent at the beginning of time, with naturally dried fruit, which had fallen from trees and vines in the hot dessert.

Such sun-drying methods didn’t work well in the cooler climates of Eastern Europe; thus, more sophisticated means of dehydrating developed here.  Beginning in the Middle Ages, in Moravia and Slovakia, special drying-houses were filled with wicker frames, on which prepared fruit was laid out; constantly-burning stoves, underneath these frames, produced the necessary dry heat to transform the food.

Medieval Scandinavia discovered that cool, crisp air, aided by a stiff breeze, could be utilized to dry Norwegian stokkfisk-cod that had been gutted and hung to dry on wooden racks.  This dried ailment provided these people with an almost indestructible, cheap food reserve.

During this time, means for food preservation were also developing in England.  The rich Englishmen, however, had cool stillrooms, where they candied nuts and citrus peel, bottled fruits-present day canning methods were discovered inl the early 19th century-and made marmalades, jams, and sweetmeats (this last, in Webster’s, is any delicacy made with a sweetening agent; “meat” here refers to food-sweet foods-such as candied fruit).  Indeed, the English employed the art of candying, or preserving with sugar, although they adhered to many alchemical superstitions and “secrets”, such as walnuts should be preserved on June 24th, St. John’s Day.

This memorable cake calls for dried plums that have been resuscitated.  These stewed prunes, along with the rich butterscotch glaze oozing into the whole, allow for an incredibly moist dessert that keeps for weeks, providing it is hidden from sight.

Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork (New York: Basic Books, 2012), pp. 218, 219.

Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), pp. 54, 180, 181.

prune cake

Prune Cake  Yields: 12 servings.  Total prep time: 1 1/2 hr/  active prep time: 30 min/  baking time: 1 hr.  Note: this recipe calls for a 9” tube pan, with a removable bottom.

2 c flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached white flour is ideal; may grind 1 2/3 cup organic soft winter white wheat berries, to make 2 c  fresh flour.)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt is available in bulk at our local Winco.)

1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon  (Our local Fred Meyer-Kroger-store has an excellent organic Korintje cinnamon in bulk.)

1 1/2 tbsp nutmeg

1 1/2 tbsp allspice

1 c oil  (Recipe calls for corn oil, but I used grapeseed oil, as it can be heated to high temperatures without damage.)

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 c sugar  (May substitute coconut sugar, which has a lower glycemic index.)

3 lg eggs, beaten

1 c buttermilk

1 1/3 c dried, PITTED prunes, soaked and coarsely chopped  (May be done ahead, see step 3.)

1 c walnuts, chopped

Hot Butterscotch Glaze

1 c sugar  (Cane sugar is important here; organic is best.)

1/2 c buttermilk

1/4 c butter

1/4 c lite Karo syrup  (For easy pouring, rub measuring cup with butter first.)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp vanilla

  1. 1980’s nutmeg grinder

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. If using freshly ground flour, begin grinding wheat berries now.
  3. Pour boiling water over prunes; let sit for 13-15 minutes, or until soft, but not mushy; drain, cool, and cut fruit in halves.  Note: unsulfured prunes will take longer to cook.
  4. In a sealed gallon-size storage bag, vigorously shake flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.  (This recipe calls for LOTS of spice; freshly ground nutmeg is superb; see above photo for my 1980’s nutmeg grinder.)
  5. Mix oil, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1 1/2 c sugar together in a large bowl; beat in eggs, one at a time; mix in flour mixture and buttermilk alternately.  Stir in the prune halves and nuts.  (If using fresh ground flour, know that it is a coarser grind and thus absorbs moisture more slowly; therefore, if grinding flour fresh, be sure to let batter rest in bowl for 45 minutes before baking, to absorb liquids.)
  6. glaze at soft ball stage before rolling together with fingers

    Pour batter into an ungreased 9” tube pan, with a removable bottom.  Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean, and cake lightly responds when pressed with finger.  Meanwhile get ready to cook the glaze.

  7. In a medium saucepan, measure the ingredients for the butterscotch glaze.  Set aside, until 10 minutes before cake is done.  After cake has been baking for 50 minutes, boil glaze over medium heat, until a candy thermometer registers 235 degrees F, or a soft ball is formed-using a clean spoon, place a small amount of the cooked sugar in a cup of cold water; then, squish together with fingers to form a soft, pliable ball that doesn’t hold its shape (see photo above).
  8. Immediately pour hot glaze over hot cake; piercing it repeatedly with a skewer or toothpick, so it can easily soak up glaze (see photo below).
  9. piercing glazed cake with skewer

    After cooling on rack, slide a knife down all sides and under removable bottom; then, gently transfer pastry to plate.

  10. Remember this is a cake to be baked in secret, for it keeps a long time, if you hide it.

Quick Pasta with Red Sauce and Ricotta

pasta with red sauce and ricotta

With our hurried society, we are always trying to conserve on time; thus, I try to respect this need for efficiency with my cooking instructions, where provision of optimum health is also a major focus.  My mind is made for details; henceforth, I spell out shortcuts that streamline cooking; this can make a particular recipe look long, but indeed it is concise, with an abundance of clock-conserving treasures.

This quick version of red sauce can be made in just 30 minutes, thus honoring our crowded schedules; it pleases with its added topping of ricotta cheese.

A dear friend always blesses me with gifts from her home, when she visits.  I never know what new gadget or food item she will introduce upon her arrival.  Several weeks ago, Wanda came bearing homemade ricotta, which she had made in a crock pot, with her suggestion to put it on top of spaghetti sauce.  As she cooks for a diabetic challenged husband, she serves just a little gluten-free pasta with lots of red sauce, topped with her ricotta; you may choose similar adjustments.  (A 5-star receipt for simple homemade ricotta cheese can be found at

Discipline is called for in any recipe, whether it be in the kitchen or life, with the constant need for balance between demands and desires.  Always we long for the best taste to be left in our mouths, but oh the challenge in allowing the time required for such quality.  Here I sacrifice some of the depth of flavor, which can be found in my moderately-more-lengthy instructions for Red Sauce for Pasta or Spaghetti Squash (2017/04/10).

Italian comes to mind when we think of red sauce; tomatoes, however, are a relatively new food in Italy.  In the 16th century, conquistadors introduced these to Europe, where they took centuries to become a leading world vegetable.  America didn’t fully accept this fruit-it is actually a fruit, not a vegetable-until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time that simultaneously saw an inundation of Italian immigrants on our shores.  For more on this history, see Spicy Sausage and Tomatoes (2017/09/25) and Ropa Vieja (2017/10/09).

If you are wanting a fine-textured red sauce, know that canned tomatoes, unlike fresh tomatoes, usually don’t boil down to a smooth puree, as calcium salts are added by many canners-this calcium firms the cell walls of tomatoes and keeps the pieces in tact.  Since these salts interfere with the disintegration process during cooking, be sure to check the labels on all canned whole tomatoes, only buying brands that don’t list calcium, unless a chunky sauce is desired.  I use canned tomato sauce here.

Pressured agendas bring loss of strength, while slowing down to smell the roses allows for the discovery of innate gifts, which were positioned by divine ordinance long ago.  We get to open these daily, if we but exercise patience.


Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), p. 206.

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 2004, 1984), p. 331.

Quick Pasta with Red Sauce and Ricotta  Yields: 2-3 servings.  Total prep time: 30 minutes.  Note: may double the recipe.

15-oz can tomato sauce  (Organic is best, which is only slightly more expensive; available at most supermarkets.)

3/4 tsp dried oregano  (Trader Joe’s has an excellent organic bottle for $1.99.)

1 tsp dried basil  (Also found at Trader’s.)

3/4 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt is available in bulk at our local Winco.)

4 med/lg cloves garlic  (For easy prep, use 2 cubes frozen garlic from Trader’s.)

1 tsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

1 med yellow onion, chopped small

2-3 servings of pasta

2 sausage links  (Natural sausage is best; I used Fence Line Hot Italian Style here.)

Spray oil  (Coconut is best for health; Pam is available in most supermarkets; our local Winco brand, however, is much cheaper.)

2 tbsp tomato paste  (Freeze remaining paste in individual 1/4 c bags, to be thawed conveniently.)

Avocado slices

Ricotta cheese for topping

  1. tomato sauce simmering

    Take ricotta out of refrigerator, to warm it for serving.

  2. In a medium saucepan, place tomato sauce and 1/2 can of water, to which you have added seasonings and garlic.  Bring to a boil over medium heat; reduce heat to med/low and simmer, stirring occasionally.
  3. Heat oil in a sauté pan; sweat onion in hot oil (cook only until translucent); add to sauce.
  4. Fill a 3-quart saucepan 4/5th full of water, to which you have added a small amount of salt and oil (any kind will do).   Place over medium heat; when water boils, add pasta, and cook for 7 minutes, or until al dente.
  5. Meanwhile cut sausage diagonally and sauté until light brown, in a frying pan sprayed with oil.  When done, add to tomato sauce.
  6. Slice avocados, set aside.
  7. When pasta is finished, drain in a colander, rinsing well.
  8. prepping pasta

    Finish the sauce, by adding tomato paste, stirring until thickened.

  9. Rinse pasta under hot tap water to warm it.  Place pasta on individual plates; pour sauce over top; garnish with large dollop of ricotta and a slice of avocado.
  10. Quick, easy, delightful!

Avocado, Bean, and Corn Salad

avocado, bean, and corn salad

My church celebrated its 22nd anniversary this past summer with our annual picnic, which we always associate with incredible food; there are two men in our congregation that smoke tri-tip for this gala (they stay up all night smoking our Thanksgiving turkeys as well, which is by far the best turkey I have ever experienced).  This year our outdoor celebration also boasted of fried chicken, not to be outdone by everyone’s glorious side-dish contributions.

Church gatherings are famous for their magnificent spreads; our congregation is no exception, for we have a host of great cooks, even though our body is small; indeed, we eat well!

I always make the following bean salad for our anniversary; it is not only quick, but keeps well in the sun.  May you find this a great dish for potlucks also.

Normally I don’t use many canned goods in my food preparations; they, however, facilitate the ease of this excellent recipe.  The history of canning is of great interest to me.  It began with a Nicolas Appert, a creative Frenchman with ordained skills, promised attributes we all get to exercise.

Our genius started out as a brewer; then, became a steward for the aristocracy; finally, he ended up as a confectioner during the Napoleonic era.  When France and Britain were at war in 1795, Napoleon, seeking a way to best preserve food for his army, offered 12,000 francs to the winner of a contest for such a discovery.  As a confectioner, Appert’s mind had already been developing such a solution, for he had been pursuing the foremost means in lengthening the shelf-life of fruits, by improving on the traditional candying and drying processes.  This formal opportunity brought his ideas to fullness; thus, he won the prize with his method in which he preserved fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, partridges, chestnuts, grape must, even the vegetable truffles: our originator partially cooked the foods, before placing them in wide-mouth bottles; then, by corking and boiling the bottles in a water bath, he expelled the damaging air; this technique of food preservation has remained in tact throughout the centuries. 1

Nevertheless, this hero unfortunately died a pauper, for by accepting the prize he lost the chance to patent his design.  (As an aside, I speak with the authority given me in Jesus Christ’s name: “Enemy of our souls, you can steal none of our rewards!”) 2

In 1810, Appert published a book detailing his canning procedure, which the award had prohibited him from patenting; just months later, a patent using his method for preserving foods surfaced in England.  There, however, his corked glass container became a more durable, tin-coated iron canister, which came with instructions for opening with a chisel and hammer. 3

By 1849, this technology for food preservation improved with machine-made, can tops and bottoms.  Prior to this, two skilled workers produced 120 cans a day; now two people could daily make 1500 cans, and these machine-operators were unskilled at that. 4

These tin cans inspired what was the slow advent of can openers, an invention that remained quite unsatisfactory from its first appearance in 1855, until our modern device appeared in the 1980’s; this latter, a side-opening implement, uses two wheels in tandem, one rotating, the other serrated, removing the lid, while leaving no sharp edges.  These days we take this relatively new, inexpensive tool for granted; as a result of the sped of modern technology, often even this is not required, for now many cans come with pop-tops. 5

Today can-making is a major economic force; in the United States alone, more than 130 billion cans are generated yearly, making this an eight billion dollar industry. 6  The majority-about four times more-of these canned goods are fizzy drinks, such as sodas and beer, rather than food. 7

Hardcore cooks can soak and boil dried beans for my salad; nevertheless most of us choose to thank Nicolas Appert, for his obedience to press in with his quick mind; as a result, we have canned beans and corn for this blessed recipe.

  1. Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork (New York: Basic Books, 2012), pp. 219-221.
  2. Ibid., p. 220.
  3. Ibid., p. 221.
  4. James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1995), p. 242
  5. Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork (New York: Basic Books, 2012), pp. 221, 221.
  7. Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork (New York: Basic Books, 2012) , p. 223.

assembling salad using garlic peeler

Avocado, Bean, and Corn Salad  Yields: about 1 1/2 quarts.  Total prep time: 25 min.  Note: this salad is spicy; for a milder version,  use less garlic and Jalapeno peppers; spiciness always lessens in intensity after a day of refrigeration; it is best to make this ahead for flavors to meld.

2-15 ounce cans of beans, drained  (Simple Truth Organic Tri-Bean Blend is ideal; available inexpensively at our local Fred Meyer-Kroger-stores.)

1-15 ounce can of sweet corn  (Trader Joe’s brand is excellent.)

1/2 cup chopped red or sweet onion  (For easy chopping, see step 2.)

5 large cloves of fresh garlic, or to taste, minced coarsely  (This amount provides a fair amount of bite; adjust for desired garlic flavor.)

chopping onion the easy way

2 Jalapeno peppers, or to taste, minced

1/2 cup salsa  (Trader Joe’s Salsa Autentica is ideal.)

1 tsp salt, or to taste  (Real Salt is important for health; available in health section at local supermarket.)

1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper, or to taste

2 small avocados, chopped

  1. Drain beans and corn in a colander, while proceeding to next step.
  2. For easy chopping, with root in tact, score a large onion with slices across top, cutting 2/3’s of the way down into it; turn onion and cut slices in opposite direction; shave pieces off end (see above photo); place in a large bowl.
  3. coarse grind of garlic

    For exceptional efficiency, peel garlic with a green, rubber garlic peeler from Bed, Bath, and Beyond (see this in photo at beginning of recipe).  May chop cloves coarsely with a sharp knife, or for quick preparation, place in a food processor, pressing pulse button repeatedly; stop and scrape down sides once; do not over chop, as a coarse grind adds bite to salad (see photo); place in bowl with onions.

  4. Cut Jalapeno peppers in half length-wise, scoop out seeds with a spoon, mince fine, and add to bowl (see photo below).  When finished, be sure to wash hands thoroughly before touching eyes.
  5. Stir salsa, salt, and pepper into onions/Jalapeno peppers.
  6. Gently blend beans and corn into this mixture; do not over mix, as this will make the beans mushy.  If making ahead, refrigerate at this point.
  7. mincing Jalapeno peppers

    Before serving, chop avocados, and carefully fold into bean mixture.  Serve with pleasure.