Discovering a collection of old recipe booklets my late grandmother saved and used for decades has inspired me. Can I replicate some of those now-forgotten dishes the way they used to make them? First up: Prune Whip.
It's a chilled dessert, or at fancier tables way back when a palate cleanser between courses. The recipe I use for this experiment in retro-cooking is from a slim giveaway publication called Knox Sparkling Gelatine Recipes, published in 1943 by the Charles B. Knox Gelatine Co. of Johnstown, New York. (Knox is now part of Kraft Foods.) Prune Whip wasn't new then. It's listed in the 1918 Fannie Farmer cookbook, and "whips" using dried fruits and whipped egg whites were popular in British kitchens long before that. The first Joy of Cooking had a whole section devoted to whips. Prune Whip achieved its greatest glory in this country in the 1950s, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared it his favorite food.
There are prune whips that are baked; the Knox Gelatine one isn't. The ingredients are plain and few (recipe follows below) and are easily found in any supermarket: Unflavored Knox Gelatine, prune juice, prunes, lemon juice, sugar, salt, egg whites, chopped nuts (optional). Whipped cream is listed as optional, too, although in my view whipped cream should never be denied. And fresh whipped cream can only benefit something whose major ingredient is prunes.
This recipe for Prune Whip is fairly idiot-proof. As a lazy cook, I didn't even bother stewing the prunes or pureeing them in a blender or food processor (in 1943, I assume they pushed the cooked prunes through a strainer to get what the booklet calls "pulp"). Sunsweet prunes right out of the can were so moist I just sliced them roughly with a paring knife. And trying for retro cooking authenticity I hand-whisked the egg whites and the whipped cream instead of using an electric mixer. The only modern shortcut I took was buying a carton of egg whites and measuring out six tablespoons to equal the whites of two eggs. Me trying to separate egg yolks from whites is pure commedia dell' arte. Plus explosive cursing.
Prep time for the whole thing was about 20 minutes total, not counting letting the prune and gelatin mixture chill before folding in the egg whites. After another round of chilling while I whipped the cream, I was ready to serve my Prune Whip in rose pink Depression glass sherbet servers from my grandma's collection. Interesting to note that the recipe says it serves six. They had smaller appetites then. I half-filled three sherbet glasses with the batch I made.
And how does it taste? Surprisingly not prune-y. It's light, slightly chewy, not too sweet and tastes sort of delicately old-fashioned. The next time I make it, I'll squeeze a bit more lemon juice in or add ¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract. A dose of rum would really get it on its feet. Prune Whip like this one would be fine in a graham cracker pie crust. And the recipe could be adapted easily for dried apricots or dried cherries (substituting the appropriate fruit juice).
A tip of the spoon to the humble prune. The recipe is after the jump.
Prune Whip Recipe:
1 envelope Knox Gelatine (unflavored) ¼ cup cold water ¾ cup hot prune juice 1 cup cooked prune pulp 2 tbsp lemon juice ½ cup sugar 2 egg whites ½ cup chopped nuts ¼ tsp salt
Soften gelatin in cold water. Add sugar, salt and hot prune juice and stir until dissolved. Add prune pulp and lemon juice. Cool, and when mixture begins to thicken, fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Turn into mold or sherbet glasses. Chill. When firm, unmold and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Serve with or without whipped cream.