In A Prune Spin

Marshall Field 1909 tearoom LOC

Dorothy Parker’s short story, “The Bolt Behind the Blue”(ca 1940), is about two sort-of friends, one rich and bored, the other poor and obsequious (at least on the outside). The rich lady, Mrs. Hazelton, makes herself feel better by giving Mary Nicholl her worn-out handbags and the occasional cocktail. Miss Nicholl, in turn, flatters Mrs H. and tells self-deprecating stories about herself and Idabel Christie, another friend, who like to go to the Candlewick Tea Room for dinner.

Mrs. Hazelton is horrified by the very idea of the tea room but even more by what Mary has there: “…those yummy sticky rolls, served in baskets, and that prune spin with maraschino cherries in it. Idabel Christie likes the fudge cup-custard, but I can’t resist the prune spin.” 

Michael and Jane Stern discuss the tearoom in their wonderful book Square Meals (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984), calling it a place for “frilly” ladies’ lunches often found in city department stores, where one or two women could dine peacefully, free from masculine intrusion. They say that “the label tearoom distinguished these citadels of femininity from the serious restaurants in town, as well as from plebeian coffee shops.” [p. 8]

Ever since I read “The Bolt Behind the Blue” I wondered – well, about the prune spin. The custard and the sticky rolls sounded good to me too (although not your usual evening meal – Mary and Idabel went at 6 pm, so I guess it was almost a late afternoon tea) – but what in the world was a prune spin?

I am here to report that I think it is analogous to the classic Prune Whip. There are plenty of prune desserts in 1930s and 1940s cookbooks. It must have been a special name that the Candlewick Tea Room in Parker’s story gave to the plebeian Whip. Spin sounds a little bit snazzier, doesn’t it? Here is a recipe for the very same, complete with a maraschino cherry (feel free to add more, in the style of Miss Mary Nicholl):


5 cooked prunes, drained
1 Tb confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp orange juice
1/4 cup heavy cream, whipped

Pit and cut prunes, mix with next two ingredients and chill. Whip cream, add chilled mixture and top with maraschino cherry if desired. [From Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook, Ruth Berolzheimer, ed. New Revised Deluxe Edition, 1971; orig. pub. 1948, p. 909]

This is for one serving of course. If Idabel can be persuaded away from the fudge custard, merely double the ingredients. Image is from the Library of Congress American Memory collection, link here: it depicts the Marshall Field & Co. tearoom in 1909. [It is originally from  the Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0003451. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.]

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9 thoughts on “In A Prune Spin

  1. My mom used to make this all the time and as kids we loved it. She would use Gerber starined prunes because in those days there was lots of tapioca and sugar in babyfood. Delicious.

  2. My mom used to make this all the time and as kids we loved it. She would use Gerber strained prunes because in those days there was lots of tapioca and sugar in babyfood. Delicious.

  3. Hey have you actually tried this recipe?
    I think you have to and tell me if it rocks or not!!
    I promise if it is good to pass it on to my friend
    for her next English high tea.

  4. Vallen – I’ve read sometimes about using pureed baby food (the fruits) in recipes as the puree is quite smooth…can’t remember where though. Good idea in this recipe!

    Amy – When you come to tea, I will make something else! :)

    Kathy – Thank you! That is a real compliment, I am a great fan of Miss Marple…I am planning to go through some mystery novels for a few literary-recipe posts, down the road.

  5. Pingback: Plum Spin « Kitchen Retro

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