Since my return to the farm I’ve been feeling very domestic. It is a retour aux sources to the place that’s been part of me, since my very first visit: I was two months old. Throughout their retirement, my grandparents raised ducks, chicken, and rabbits. They also grew vegetables to feed animals (maïs, betteraves, topinambours) and humans (pommes de terre, haricots verts, asperges, petits pois, fèves.) There was also a small potager planted with leeks, carrots, tomatoes, and a variety of lettuces. Fruit trees dotted the fields. Growing your own produce and eating in season was a double-edged sword. First, you got all excited when harvesting the first green beans; two weeks later, you tried to invent new dishes to use the above-mentioned vegetables; three weeks into the season, you were insanely tired of équeuter the beans and canning the seemingly endless crop.
The farm is no longer in an active state but some of the fruit trees remain. We arrived too late for cherries and apricots but August blessed us with an abundance of plums, more than enough to share with family, birds, and wasps. By all accounts, this year was a bumper crop for fruits à noyaux.
Although I frequently purchased local produce from Farmers’ markets while living in California, nothing beats the taste and texture of a perfectly ripe fruit, just picked from the tree and eaten on the spot. But when strong winds knocked down a large branch of my quetsche tree, we found ourselves with an abundance of riches. Not being equipped for canning at the moment, I resorted to making compotes, clafoutis, and tarts. If I find myself in a similar predicament next year, I might just have a local bouilleur de cru distill my excess fruit and turn it into eau de vie.
The most exciting thing for me was to feast on varieties of plums that I rarely –or never– encountered in the US. The Mirabelle plum is virtually unknown there: in fact, I can’t really find a translation for it. Some call it a “cherry plum” because it is the size of a fat cherry; one of my suppliers used to label it “fancy plum”, which was more confusing than helpful. Those who have seen and tasted a mirabelle always recognize its (often flecked) dark yellow skin, yellow flesh, and sweet flavor. It’s a specialty of the Lorraine area where 80% of the production is grown.
My personal favorite is the Reine Claude (greengage), named after the wife of King François 1er. Round and firm, its skin is green even when the plum is ripe; its flesh is green as well. It retains a touch of acidity which balances its sweetness. I think they make fabulous tarts: they soften but do not lose too much juice.
Very prevalent in our area is the Quetsche (damson) and its cousin the Prune d’Ente (the one they dry to make those wonderful French prunes in Agen.) The oval purple fruit brightly contrasts from the thick green leaves of the tree. Its light red flesh is a bit juicier than the Reine Claude.
Two weeks ago, I found myself in the middle of the perfect plum storm: I actually had baskets of all three varieties at the same time! Not wanting to play favorite, I felt under obligation to celebrate them all in one dish.
THREE PLUM TART
Tarte aux trois prunes
Serves 6 to 8
One sheet of pastry (home-made or store-bought)
2 lbs plums, three assorted varieties
4 tablespoons almond meal
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Preheat oven to 375º F. Drop the pastry into a 12” tart mold. Wash, half and pit the plums. Spread the almond meal evenly on the surface of the dough. Arrange the plums in crust; sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake for 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.
Le retour aux sources: lit. return to the origins, homecoming
Le maïs: corn
La betterave: beet
Le topinambour: Jerusalem artichoke
La pomme de terre: potato
Le haricot vert: green bean
L’asperge (f): asparagus
Le petit pois: green pea
La fève: fava bean
Le potager: the vegetable garden
Equeuter: to trim the ends of the beans
Le fruit à noyau: stone fruit
La quetsche: damson plum
Le bouilleur de cru: private distiller
L’eau de vie (f): brandy