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Prune and Almond Crumble Tart

The term prune (French for plum) has been used since medieval times to describe a dried plum. Although tainted with childhood jokes, the prune is making a comeback. This is partly the result of the wider availability of dried prunes, particularly the succulent Prune d'Agen from Aquitaine, which was an important export from France to California in the nineteenth century.
The prune is well known in descriptions of old tarts, principally as the key ingredient of 'black tart stuff described by Elizabeth David. Prunes go well with meats (such as sausages), and there are several recipes for prune and egg custard tarts.
The tart described here, however, is more akin to the seventeenth-century 'black tart' and can at the same time be viewed as the early predecessor of the famous American 'shoo-fly pie' (so-called because flies were attracted to the pie when it was taken out of the oven).
Crumbles as we know them today did not really appear widely until the 1939-45 war as an austerity practice to make food go further. So this tart has a very mixed heritage.

ingredients

serves 8
175 g (6 oz) rich sweet shortcrust pastry

for the prune base:

two 250 g (9 oz) packets ready-to-eat pitted dried prunes
375 ml (13 fl oz) red wine
pared strip of orange rind
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
75 ml (2 1/2 fl oz) port, sherry or marsala

for the crumble:

55 g (2 oz) ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground mace or grated nutmeg
115 g (4 oz) light soft brown sugar
175 g (6 oz) plain flour
115 g (4 oz) cold, unsalted butter, chopped into small pieces
25g (1 oz) almonds, finely chopped
sifted icing sugar, mixed with a little grated nutmeg, to decorate

method

1. Line a shallow 23cm (9 in) tart tin with the pastry and pre-bake or bake blind. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (400°F) Gas 6.

2. Put the prunes, red wine, 300ml (1/2 pint) water, the orange rind, spices and port or sherry in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir to mix, then bring to the boil.

3. Cover and simmer gently for about 20 minutes or until the prunes are well plumped up and nicely spiced, stirring occasionally. Ideally, you want a fairly sloppy mixture and so it might be worth heating it further and reducing the liquid down a bit, if the mixture is still too runny. Remove and discard the orange rind, cinnamon stick and cloves.

4. Meanwhile, make the crumble topping, putting all the crumble ingredients together in a bowl and rubbing in the butter, making sure it is mixed in well and quickly.

5. Assemble the tart by putting the prune mixture in the pre-baked pastry case, then spoon the crumble mixture evenly over the top. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes. Check that the crumble is not getting too dark brown; if it is, put a loose layer of foil over the top. Remove the tart from the oven and allow it to cool. Dust with sifted icing sugar mixed with nutmeg just before serving.

Serve warm with vanilla custard.

Cook's Tip - Ideally you should prepare your prunes one day before making this tart, but some of the supermarket dried prunes are so succulent and tender nowadays that there is really no need for soaking.

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