We got a call from Aude & Seb asking us if we would come out and help save a tree. Something happened this season (the canicule in July?) and one of the old trees in the orchard behind the chateau produced an insane amount of fruit. The branches of this tree are so laden with ripe fruits that two large branches have actually broken from the weight, and more are at risk. They needed people to come and help relieve the tree of the weight.
I set a writing project aside and Loic re-arranged some of his work, and we headed out with a fruit palette and my shopping basket. When we arrived, they were waiting there with Lise, Sebastien's grandmother. She had a neck brace on, apparently she strained her neck while picking fruit. Aude & Sebastien led us up through the orchards (I grabbed a couple of apples along the way, as seen in the basket). When we neared the tree, a sharp odor of vinegar hit us, and I actually felt as if this old tree was in distress. The broken branches lay where they had fallen, still alive, clearly some fruit already rotted but many mirabelles still fine. Bees swarmed everywhere.
The sight that awaited us of the actual fruit was awe inspiring, the fruit on the branches reminded me of peppercorn pods - completely covering the branches.
We had a ladder and in a few minutes we had picked enough to fill both receptacles completely. They were guessing the number of tons of fruit that were left on this one tree.
We sat and visited for a few minutes and Lise gave me her proportions for Mirabelle jam, the one her family has made with these particular fruits every year.
Mirabelle Jam (as dictated by Lise)
For every one kilo of Mirabelles, use 800 grams of granulated sugar. Pit the fruit, and add the sugar, put it in a big bowl, and let it sit overnight. This will produce plenty of juice. The next morning, cook the fruit down for 20 to 25 minutes (I'll add that to make jam the best temperature to cook it to is 220F) and put it directly into jars, seal, & sterilize.
Lise laughed because she said that just the other day she heard an interview on the radio with the fruit growers in the Lorraine, the traditional Mirabelle producing region, who were all sad because this year's crop did not yield as many fruits as they had expected and hoped for.
We got the fruit home and Loic weighed it. 20 pounds. Oh Lord, how am I going to deal with all this fruit? We can give some of it away, and Jam is one thing, but there's only so much jam a person can put up before they become a nuisance pushing jam and fruit on everyone.
Not to mention the fact that I have a good number of peches de vignes I was planning on using before the mirabelle emergency happened.
I remembered a series of excellent dinners I shared with a friend, her husband is from the Ile de Reunion. His aunts and uncles come to the mainland every so often and before they arrive, they send ahead a huge package full of various flavors of home made "PUNCH". This was a delectable treat, served over ice on the terrace of their apartment. It is fruit along with its pits long macerated in Rum Agricole with a good dose of sugar syrup. When I asked him if there were any secrets, he said that for a successful "punch", you must burn the sugar when making the syrup. So with a few kilos of these mirabelles, I will burn some sugar and make some Punch. This will also make good giving at the holidays if it tastes good.
Otherwise I have a sheet of fruit drying in the oven overnight, Mother's suggestion. These will make good snacks when we're out biking. Our oven has a fan to keep the air circulating and we're leaving them to dry overnight. I am drying the fruit at 75C, 140F. It will make nice little mirabelle prunes. I wonder, should I salt them like I had in China? I loved the salted prunes my office mates shared with me in Beijing. Perhaps I should have dipped them in a salted brine before drying them. If these aren't sucessful I can always try another batch! I have a Chinese friend coming over and maybe she can help me decide what to do with some of these.
The remaining recipes I've scrounged up are:
Liqueur de mirabelles (done with eau de vie)
Tarte aux Mirabelles
Compote de mirabelles
Gâteau lorrain aux mirabelles
Tôt-fait à la mirabelle
two recipes for Pork and mirabelles, one a terrine and the other a roast
and Magret de canard with a mirabelle sauce.
Time to get cooking and maybe add some recipes to the notebook.