Impressed with this new information I stored it in my mind, only to discover that I had occasion to retrieve it far sooner than I might have expected. As part of a worksheet exercise in class one day, there was a question that asked ‘What is a prune?’ Before learning from my father about the Zen of prunes, I too would have answered, ‘a dried plum’. Equipped with this new counter-intuitive knowledge, however, I insisted that, ‘Prunes are prunes’, and nothing would dissuade me from my conviction.
The teacher tried very hard to convince me, even going so far as to show me a concise dictionary entry which stated that a prune was indeed ‘a dried plum’. At that point I conceded—outwardly, at least. On the way home from school, I continued the discussion with my friend. I said that I wasn’t entirely persuaded by the teacher’s proof because it was clear for anyone to see that prune pits were quite a different shape to those of plums: prune pits were more oval and had sharp pointed ends, while plum pits were round.
Much to my chagrin, my friend didn't agree with me. I forget the exact details of her argument but she was more adamant than I was about the genealogy of the prune. I recall eventually admitting that perhaps prunes were dried plums, but wondered if she would concede that they weren’t the same variety of plum that we were familiar with in the fresh form? She never really did acknowledge my observation, and stubbornly insisted that I admit that prunes were dried plums without any mitigating details.
Since then, I hadn’t really thought of The Prune Incident, but I was reminded of it recently when I began buying trays of sugar plums from my favourite green grocer. I’d never tried this variety of plum before, but at $3.99 for 750g, they seemed worth trying.
After I ate the first one and saw the oblong shaped pit with pointy ends, I wondered if at last I had encountered the variety of plum that was the precursor of the prune as I knew it. I haven’t checked any sources, but I’m convinced the sugar plum is the prune plum.
Not only is the pit the right shape, but the shape and size of this plum are more similar to the dried prune than the large round variety of plum that was a treat every summer when I was growing up.
Just looking up ‘prune’ in another dictionary now, I see one of the definitions is:
prune³ proon, n a plum (obs); a dried plum; a plum suitable for drying (US)
Is it worth mentioning that prune can also mean ‘a dud