Prune Logs? Try Pastilla, One Family's Sweet Tradition
Hear the phrase "prune log" and most likely your first thought isn't "WOW! That sounds YUMMIDELICIOUS!"
But bear with us here at Found Recipes. We wouldn't even suggest you try pastilla if it wasn't good.
"It tastes like a not-too-sweet jam," says Merelyn Chalmers, one of the women behind the Monday Morning Cooking Club. They're a group of home cooks from Sydney, Australia, who collect and preserve recipes from the Jewish community there.
Chalmers says pastilla, which is also made with honey, walnuts and shredded coconut, is between candy and cake in hardness. It can be easily sliced with a serrated knife.
"I serve it with a cheese board," Chalmers says, "or sometimes when I can't find the time to make a proper dessert for the family, I just slice that up and have a bowl of dark chocolate alongside it. I love the combination of prunes and dark chocolate."
The pastilla recipe belonged to the late Zina Komonski, who was born in 1914 to a Russian Jewish family living in Harbin, China. They moved to Israel when she was young, then a few years later, they settled in Australia.
She said it was an old family recipe — passed down to her from her great, great grandmother. Komonski liked to make the logs as gifts, rolling them in aluminum foil. She especially liked to serve the prune walnut logs during Passover.
"It makes me laugh," says Lisa Goldberg, another Monday Morning Cooking Club member, "she thought the qualities of the prunes used to be a perfect antidote to the ill-effects of the matzo that you ate at that time of year."
Zina Komonski's prune and walnut log recipe is the basis for "Pastilla Nash", which is sold throughout Australia. Interestingly, this Russian Jewish treat has become a very popular Christmas item down under. But if you like to try the original recipe, look no further.
Makes 15 logs
800 g (3 cups) pitted prunes, minced (see note)
600 g (2 3/4 cups) sugar
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons lemon juice
400 g (4 cups) walnuts
125 g (1 cup) desiccated coconut
Put the prunes and sugar in a very large saucepan and mix together with a splash of water until combined into a sludgy mixture. Cook on a medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the honey and lemon juice and cook for about 15 minutes until the mixture becomes a very thick jam that sticks to the side of the pan. Test if it is ready by putting a bit on a spoon and placing it in the fridge – it should go hard after a few minutes. Add the walnuts and cook for a further 5–10 minutes, stirring.
Spread the coconut over two boards or trays. Place tennis ball-sized spoonfuls of the mixture onto the coconut. When cool enough to handle, roll each mound into a sausage shape, so it becomes a smooth log covered in coconut. Wrap in foil and refrigerate until cold. Slice thinly on the diagonal to serve. Keeps well.
Note: For the best results, the prunes should be minced in a mincer.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
With five more nights of Hanukkah, we thought you might like this found recipe from the old country via the land down under.
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LISA GOLDBERG: Hi, I'm Lisa Goldberg(ph).
MERELYN CHALMERS: And hi, I'm Merelyn Chalmers.
GOLDBERG: And we are part of the Monday Morning Cooking Club, all the way from Sydney, Australia.
SHAPIRO: The Monday Morning Cooking Club is a group of women who collect recipes from the best home cooks in Sydney's Jewish community. Today they want to tell us about one of their recipes. It involves walnuts, honey, coconut and prunes.
GOLDBERG: It tastes like a not-too-sweet jam.
SHAPIRO: Give prunes a chance, people. The cooking club did, thanks to really old family recipe from Zina Komonski.
GOLDBERG: We call her Nanbabes(ph). She was I think about 95. And she was the most gorgeous lady. She was a tiny little thing about four-foot-something. Her family was of Russian heritage. But before she was born they moved to Harbin, China, like a lot of the Jews did from Russia at that time, and lived there until they moved to Israel in about 1949. And so she's got a very mixed heritage, you know, Russian, Chinese, Israeli all comes into it.
She taught us how to make a dish called pastilla. Nanbabes told us that it came from her great-great-grandmother and that it was an old Russian Jewish recipe.
CHALMERS: Merelyn here. It is a prune and walnut log, not hard like a candy. You can slice through it quite easily with a serrated knife.
GOLDBERG: And Lisa here. We invited Nanbabes to her granddaughter Nicki's(ph) kitchen, and we said please can you show us your secret. Everything had to be done her way and a particular way. And as tiny as she was, she was quite a forceful lady and really said no, this is how you do it. You must put the prunes in a mincer, otherwise don't bother. Have to be in a mincer. And she would tell us that 20 times.
I still have such a strong memory of seeing her in the kitchen when we went for lessons with this pot that was almost as big as she was, standing there with her tiny little arm, stirring and stirring this heavy, sludgy mixture. And then the way she got big tennis-ball-sized dollops or spoons of this mixture onto the coconut-covered tray, and it was just amazing to watch her do it.
CHALMERS: Zina would make it in quite a rustic way. So it wasn't very smooth. And she would wrap it up in aluminum foil and give it as little presents for people. Pastilla is one of my favorite sweet treats in the world. I serve it with a cheese board, or sometimes when I can't find the time to make a proper dessert for the family, I just slice that up, and I have a bowl of dark chocolate alongside it. I love the combination of prune and chocolate.
SHAPIRO: Merelyn Chalmers and Lisa Goldberg. Their cookbook is called "The Monday Morning Cooking Club." Nanbabes passed away in August, but her pastilla lives on. In Australia, a commercial version of it is very popular around Christmastime, not bad for an old Russian Jewish recipe made with prunes. We'll just call them dried plums. You can learn how to make pastilla yourself at our found recipes page at npr.org.
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SHAPIRO: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.