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Food & Drink ADVENTure: Prune Pie (an essay on family togetherness)

I need to get two very important biographical facts out of the way upfront before I give you this recipe:

My parents are both from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

My mother's side is Danish.

What does this have to do with a recipe for Christmas Eve? Well, pretty much everything. South Dakotans and Scandinavians are not exactly known for their inventive cuisine. Or delicious cuisine (for all that is holy: just avoid brown cheese).

Which is why the most time-tested Christmas tradition in our family is our dessert on Christmas Eve: prune pie.

While we were always told that this was a traditional Danish recipe, I've always been suspicious that no recipe actually exists. It could also easily be a Depression-era knock off of British plum pudding, although I have no evidence of that, either.

Ingredient List

  • 1 pie crust, like one from the freezer section.

  • A bag, or container, or two cans prunes.

  • Heavy whipping cream. As much as you feel like whipping (this amount depends greatly on how big of a mess the grandkids made during dinner).

Optional #1

  • An extract of your choice. We are simple people and lean towards vanilla or almond, although rum also works just fine (depending on who is in charge of whipping the cream).

Step 1: Following the instructions on the pie crust package.

I was never around for this portion of the process. Not only were my parents both from Sioux Falls, my Grandpa Lingo and my Aunt Pam lived just a block down the street from my Grandma and Grandpa Jorgenson. My sister and I were shuttled down the sidewalk, waddling like penguins over the sheen of ice, away from our four cousins at the other house for the majority of the day.

The Lingo house was always pretty silent - perhaps the sound was muffled by the brown of everything, ranging from the taupe carpet to the mahogany stew that I'm fairly convinced my grandpa made a giant vat of once a year and then froze in 5-gallon paint buckets he kept in the basement chest freezer (I'm choosing to believe that the buckets were, at least, washed out before he used them as storage containers). We were the only two kids, my dad's sister unmarried her whole life, her only kids the stuffed animals she set up in conversational poses surrounding her brown recliner chair - honestly, they carried on conversations better than anyone else in that house. The only thing not brown in that house was the dilapidated blow-up Santa that has been in every Christmas photo since my dad was 10. Because nobody could hear us anyways, my sister and I used to take turns running into it, a slow squeaky hiss coming out of it our soundtrack for the day as it slowly came back to shape.

Anyways, just follow the instructions on the package. And then let it cool.

Step 2: Stew the prunes.

This takes anywhere from ten minutes to ten hours. Whatever you do, don't leave them on the stove stewing in a pot with a tiny bit of water and covered and then forget about it while you all leave for candlelight service at the First Baptist Church. But if you do do this and suddenly realize halfway through the service, please refrain from fixating on them, mumbling under your breath for the last ten minutes that the prunes are going to be more burnt than your hand currently is because the church skimped out on the cheap wax catchers again, or at least keep that out of earshot of your eldest kid (in all honesty, she's not paying too much attention to you because she's spent most of the services softening the candle wax and the bottom of the candle until half the candle came off and she's too busy covertly constructing a circus animal parade to hide in the communion cup holders).

Besides, Grandma Jorgenson was always smart and bought double the amount of prunes needed so she could redo this step.

The prunes should look reconstituted. And then let them cool.

Step 3: Whip the cream.

This was always my job. My cooking skills have never been great and I still have the read the side of the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese box so I do it right. But I can whip some cream. I like turning the beater on high, watching the cream change from liquid to soft and fluffy as the hand mixer goes around and around, bouncing off the bottom of the metal bowl, drowning out my mom and her two sisters rehashing stories from their childhood, their memories of being as kids to demonstrate hula hoops outside the Sunshine Grocery store and drive in more customers, the time the cream pie fell out of the fridge and they ate it off the floor, or maybe that was Buffy the Scottish Terrier that did that, the time we were all in the Black Hills and one of them (no one can remember who) was making green apple salad and a chunk fell under the fridge so she bent down to get it and pulled out a mouse instead, their memories interjecting and mixing with all the others until just a cloud of reminiscence wafted over everything.

Extract liberally.

Step 4: Put the cold prunes on the cold pie crust.

Step 5: Put the cold whipped cream on top of the cold prunes, which are on top of the cold pie crust.

Step 6: Serve cold.

You can attempt to make neat slices, but if you did it right it is never perfect. Prunes will get smashed, the whipped cream will melt around, the pie crust will fall apart. This is exactly what you are looking for.

Step 7: Eat.

Well, try. I mean, it's basically a cold fruit trifle melting on a plate.

Optional Ingredient 8: Festive Bog Roll.

We would all attempt to finish our pie. I think only my grandpa and I ever did. And soon two of my cousins would go home with their parents to their house down two streets over, and the rest of us would settle in and try to sleep.

I'm not sure why we always tried to sleep, because we all knew we'd see each other in about four hours standing in line for one of my grandparents' two bathrooms. Because PRUNES, man. They are a THING.


As we close out this ADVENTure season, thanks to all of you for following along on our traditions journeys, and thanks to all of the members of the HRA team who shared their traditions and stories and holiday destinations with us.

2024 is right around the corner, a chance to make new memories.

Festive bog roll available upon request.


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