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Turn these 'sugar plums' into sweet dried treats

French plums, right, make delicious prunes (dried plums), left.  Use them in buttery bar cookies. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

Recipe: Bake a batch of California prune bars

Call them dried plums or prunes; either way, they’re delicious – especially when made with fresh French or Italian plums.

These elongated “sugar plums” flourish in the greater Sacramento area. In the last weeks of summer and early fall, they’re readily available in farmers markets – or, if you're lucky, in your own backyard.

French and Italian plums grow well in the Sacramento region.
Due to their high sugar content, these sweet ovals make good preserves, wine and brandy as well as fantastic prunes or dried plums. Freestone, these varieties let their pits pop out with little fuss.

Dried at home, these plums are soft and pliable. In a dehydrator, French or Italian plum halves takes about 24 hours to dry to perfection. Store the dried plums in the freezer; they’ll keep for at least a year.

What to do with those dried plums? Any recipe that calls for prunes, of course.

For September snacking, try this recipe for California prune bars, a variation of old-fashioned date bars. This recipe is adapted from a 1970 classic, “The California Cookbook” by former Los Angeles Times food editor Jeanne Voltz.

California prune bars

Ingredients :

1 cup California prunes, pitted and coarsely chopped

1 ½ cups sifted flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cloves

½ teaspoon salt
Bake the bars for 30 minutes.

½ cup (1 cube) butter

1 ½ cups brown sugar, packed

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ cup chopped walnuts

2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

Butter and flour for dish

Instructions :

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch square baking dish or pan.

Chop prunes coarsely. Set aside. Sift together flour, baking powder, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Set aside.

In a large and heavy saucepan over medium heat, heat butter until melted and just bubbly. Stir in brown sugar and remove from heat. Let this mixture cool to lukewarm. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in vanilla.

Mix in sifted dry ingredients, chopped prunes, nuts and lemon peel.

These bars makes a great early fall treat.
Spread batter into prepared baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until top is lightly browned and springs back when lightly touched.

Let cool in dish. Cut into 3-by-1½-inch bars. Makes 18 bars.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 19:

Spring will start a bit soggy, but there’s still plenty to do between showers:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Watch out for aphids. Wash off plants with strong blast from the hose.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to fight blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees as they start to blossom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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