European way of life

The Lorraine mirabelle

It’s been three days of intense media coverage. Everyone is talking about it, even in the national press: war? the financial crisis? No (at least, not only): it’s the Lorraine mirabelle! Let’s zoom in on this little fruit, rich in vitamin C and fiber that exists almost nowhere else.

A species of plum

This delicate fruit is found almost only in Lorraine and in northern Alsace. It has a « IGP label » (« Indication Géographique Protégée » – « Protected Geographical Provenance ») since 1996, it is part of the local heritage, same as Saint-Nicolas (a local sort of Santa Claus) and the quiche. This year’s crop looks promising and this little golden, sweet or tangy plum takes us a while back. Apparently, Virgil mentions it in The Bucolics (II, 50). This « little wax-colored plum » is considered to be specific of the Lorraine region, which supplies 80% of the world production. Let’s not forget though, that it is hardly consumed outside of Lorraine

Mirabelles de Nancy sur l'arbre, photo de Stanislas Perrin  (CC BY-SA 2.5, 2.0, 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Nancy mirabelles on the tree, photo by Stanislas Perrin (CC BY-SA 2.5, 2.0, 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The purists say that there are several sorts, of which two are more famous: the Nancy mirabelle, the biggest one, almost orange and with red dots, and the Metz mirabelle, smaller and with a thinner peel. This distinction obviously encourages the petty war the lasting competition between the two main cities of Lorraine, but it seems that the one from Metz is more popular, while the Nancy sort makes for excellent preserves.

Mirabelles de Metz, Lorraine, France © Eurofluence

Metz mirabelles, Lorraine, France © Eurofluence

Numerous wild guesses have been made about its nome, but the mirabelle is probably what is « nice to look at » in some Occitan dialects, since this fruit was first cultivated in the South. It is mentioned in source materials before the 15th century and some say that it was brought to Lorrain by the good king René from Anjou, Count of Provence and also Duke of Lorraine (1409-1480). However, plum stones were also found in the Gallo-Roman site of Grand.

Since the Renaissance, the prestigious guests of Lorraine have been offered mirabelle confiture or candied mirabelles, as were Catherine of Medicis and her son Charles IX at their passage through Metz in 1568, since the Metz mirabelle already needed no introduction.

The culture

In Lorraine, it is cultivated in the orchards of Saintois, on the slopes of the Meuse and Moselle rivers, since the mirabelle trees, with their knotty branches, like clay, chalky, fertile soils and the daily temperature changesmoderate changes, however, and no late frosts. The mirabelle ripens in the heart of the most beautiful landscapes of the region.

La Colline de Sion, Saintois, Lorraine, photo de François Bernandin (CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Sion Hill, Saintois, Lorraine, photo by François Bernandin (CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The harvest is made by the « shaker », who shakes the trees to make the fruits fall instantaneously, or by hand, from August to September. Only the mirabelles that reached of diameter of 22 millimeters at least are picked. The annual production goes up to 15 000 tons and one single tree can give up to 100 kilograms of fruit.

Eating the mirabelle

90% of the production is processed: made into preserves or jams (70%), liquor and eau-de-vie (20%), sometimes perfumes and cosmetics. The mirabelle eau-de-vie has the AOR label (« Appellation d’Origine Réglementée » – Regulated Origin Designation) since 1953 and should obtain the prestigious AOC label (« Appellation d’Origine contrôlée » – Controlled Origin Designation) this year.

Ripe mirabelles have a sweet, mild scent. They are perfect in tarts or almond clafoutis, but they can also be cooked in savory dishes: as a chutney accompanying foie gras, in tajine-cooked poultry or with a pork joint. However, it is important to eat them quickly after buying.

Tarte amandine aux mirabelles de Metz © Eurofluence

Metz mirabelles amandine pie © Eurofluence

In Lorraine, the mirabelle eau-de-vie (45% alcohol content) can be used for many purposes, even as an ingredient for car-washing liquids, since it never freezes. In a grog, the elders say it will cure any winter health problem in one intensely sweaty night… The production of this renowned eau-de-vie has thrived since the phylloxera epidemic that ruined the Lorraine vines starting in 1892. The mirabelle replaced grapes among distillers.

Eau-de-vie de mirabelle de Lorraine, photo de Pymouss44 (CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Mirabelle eau-de-vie from Lorraine, photo by Pymouss44 (CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

You got it – despite a very short harvesting period, the mirabelle is an emblematic product of the Lorraine terroir: festivals, bals, parades, beauty pageants and sporting event, nothing is missing in the Lorraine summer, in order to celebrate this little plum that even has its society and its House, in Rozelieures, a small 200-souls village in the heart of the Saintois, south-east of Nancy!

The yellow gold from Lorraine is sold about 3€ per kilogram!

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