2017-10-05 / From The Garden

The Elusive Mirabelle Plum, Now in Season

By Cynthia Gibson

When in bloom a Mirabelle tree has white flowers. (Photo by Cynthia Gibson) When in bloom a Mirabelle tree has white flowers. (Photo by Cynthia Gibson) Mirabelles are a delicious, heavenly scented miniature plum. They are not much larger than a marble, but have the taste of honey, plum and a special fragrance from the fruit Gods. And now is the season for these European plums.

Native to China, they made their way to Europe in the 15th century, finding a home in the Alsace- Lorraine region of France, and in the towns of Metz and Nancy. But they are slowly making their way to backyard orchards and gardens in the United States.

There are several Mirabelle varieties, but the best are Mirabelle de Metz, Mirabelle de Nancy or Mirabelle Partum de Septembre. Lorraine, in Northwest France, produces at least 15 tons of Mirabelle plums a year, making them the top producer in the world.

The trees are currently available through the Raintree catalogue, which specializes in fruit trees for the amateur and commercial grower. I have three Mirabelle trees from Raintree, and patience is the key to growing them. They can take up to seven years to produce a crop. But once they start blooming, they will continue for at least 25 years. A late frost can be an issue with Aquidneck Island fruit trees. The blossoms freeze, resulting in the absence of fruit. Fortunately, this rarely happens.

The plums are great for cooking, except for the Mirabelle de Metz, which is best eaten fresh from the tree. The Metz is not your typical Mirabelle. It is a striking piece of fruit, greenish yellow and oval, with deep purple spots. Most Mirabelles are round, with yellow and red spots. Whether round or oval, the taste is most important, and all Mirabelles have a sweet plummy perfume.

Last week, I made about 8 ounces of Mirabelle plum jam. This is an un-processed recipe, so it is quick and simple. All you need is a clean sterilized jar; no water bath is necessary. But with any unprocessed jams or jellies, the jar should be refrigerated and the plums consumed within two weeks.

This is a recipe I borrowed from David Lebovitz, a great American pastry chef now living in Paris. You will be surprised at its simplicity, and you will also want to use other European Fall plums, like the fabulous Italian Prune plums. All Euro plums are perfect for this recipe. This jam creates an instant round trip to Alsace-Lorraine!

Golden Mirabelle Jam

From David Lebovitz

With this recipe I use less sugar than traditional jam, so it will not keep for months. I imagine these proportions would work well with other sweet plums, like Reine Claude’s (greengage) and prune plums, but for tart plums, like Santa Rosas, you might want to add more sugar to counterbalance the tartness. The recipe can easily be doubled or scaled up.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. 1 lb. Mirabelle plums
2/3 cups sugar
1 tsp. freshly squeezed
lemon juice
optional: 1/2 to 1 tsp. kirsch or

Begin by pitting the Mirabelles. Put the pitted fruits in a non-reactive saucepan (made from ceramic, anodized stainless steel, glass, or nonstick materials). Add enough water so it’s about 1/4-inch deep in the pan. Cover and cook over medium heat, until the Mirabelles are cooked through, about eight to 10 minutes. You should have about two cups of cooked fruit.

Add the

sugar and lemon juice and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the liquid looks syrupy and thick. If you want to check it for doneness, you can turn it off and put a generous dab on a chilled plate in the freezer and check it in a few minutes when it’s cold. If it wrinkles when you nudge it, it’s done. If using a candy thermometer, the jam will set at around 220 degrees.

Remove from heat, add the kirsch or eau-de-vie, and balance the flavor with a little bit more lemon juice, if desired. Spoon jam into a clean jar, cover and refrigerate until ready to eat. The jam will keep in the refrigerator for at least two weeks.

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