Plums and apricots, peaches and almonds and cherries are all species of the widely cultivated genus Prunus, a member of the Rosaceae (rose) family. It’s thought that plum trees first arrived in Europe from the Middle East during the 13th century with Frenchmen returning from the Fifth Crusade however they may have been introduced much earlier by the Romans.
Apparently there are now over 300 varieties of plum in Britain. They come into season around the time of Rosh Hashanah (late August to early October) however at other times of the year when fresh fruit isn’t available, Lekvár, an aromatic, delicious reduction of dried fruit (sometimes also referred to as fruit butter) is made. Of Slovakian origin Lekvár is particularly common in Hungarian cuisine.
Lekvár can be made from all the species of the Prunus family. It can also be made from apples, another member of the Rosaceae family (though not of the Prunus family).
As sugar was rare and expensive until modern times, Lekvár’s sweetness was usually derived from the fruit itself, produced by the concentration of natural sugar during cooking. Traditionally it was used as jam by peasants who spread it on their bread.
Today sugar is added both as a sweetener and as a preservative (which is important for commercial production) and as a thickener. As dried fruit is accessible and less seasonal than fresh fruit Lekvár is also used in various pastries and biscuits. It’s used for both its intense flavour and because it’s thick which prevents it from running.
Lekvár has many uses. Apricot or prune lekvár is used to fill the Eastern European Hamantaschen eaten at Purim (use food52 recipe search to find my recipe) and the Austrian Krapfen (doughnuts) eaten at Chanukah. It’s also used as a filling for pastries (such as Danish, the Franco-German Fluden eaten on Shabbos and at Rosh Hashanah and the Czech Kolache eaten at Purim). It’s used in dumplings made with an unleavened dough (such as the Polish Pierógi and the Ukrainian Vareniki) as well as in the kugels eaten on Shabbos. It’s used to good effect with biscuits, the Austrian kipfel and croissants and it’s used as a filling in crêpes (such as Palatschinken, thin pancakes common in Eastern Europe). Lekvár is also used in pastries such as strudel. —olinsloan
- Serves 1
(500 g) dried apricots or prunes, pitted
Water to just cover fruit
(50 g) granulated or caster sugar, or more, to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons
(20 g) ground nuts, almonds for apricots, walnuts for prunes, opt.
- Cover fruit in saucepan with water. Simmer for 10-15 minutes without letting all the water evaporate or the Lekvár will burn. Add more water if necessary.
- Once fruit is soft add sugar, lemon juice and ground nuts, if using, and cook until thick and puree. If the Lekvár is runny continue to cook a minute or two more.
- Lekvar will keep for months in a covered jar in the refrigerator or can be frozen.