What's so funny about prunes anyway? "The Prune Gourmet" by Donna Rodnitzky, JoGail Wenzel and Ellie Densen (Chronicle Books, $9.95) soberly -- not one prune joke -- looks at the dried plum and finds it to be one versatile fruit. The authors fold it into everything (including vodka, butter and curry), playing with old themes like Country Baked Spareribs glazed with prune sauce and trying new combinations like Prune Macaroons. The desserts are expecially successful with the Autumn Prune-Apple cake proving a decided hit.

AUTUMN PRUNE-APPLE CAKE

(14 servings)

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups oil

3 eggs

3 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

2 cups pitted prunes, coarsely chopped

2 cups coarsely shredded apples

1 cup walnuts, chopped

Confectioners' sugar

In large bowl, beat sugar, oil, and eggs 2 minutes with electric mixer at medium speed. In another bowl, combine dry ingredients; gradually mix into egg mixture. Mix in prunes, apples, and walnuts at low speed to blend thoroughly. Spoon into greased and floured 10-inch tube pan; smooth top. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 1 1/2 hours, until springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Invert onto rack to cool completely. Place on serving plate and dust with confectioners' sugar.

Per serving: 547 calories, 7 gm protein, 67 gm carbohydrates, 30 gm fat, 4 gm saturated fat, 59 mg cholesterol, 286 mg sodium.

"The Prune Gourmet" by Donna Rodnitzky, JoGail Wenzel and Ellie Densen (Chronicle Books, $9.95)