…mirabelles, the tart orange plums like incandescent bulbs strung in forest green leaves…
From The Lantern
Late summer in Provence, and the garden orchards are full of plums. The mirabelles - smaller than they look in these - have a very distinct sweet-sour taste. When you cook with them they suck in more sugar than you ever intended and still never lose their tartness. You can pluck them off the tree and eat, and the first one is delicious and unusual, but somehow you don't want another - not right away, anyway.
They are beginning to wrinkle on the branch, testament both to glorious plenty, and their status as an acquired taste. Actually, mirabelles are fantastic with cheese, but we've had a brake on too much cheese and red wine this year, as it's just too easy to carry on eating and drinking long past reason!
The plums we grab in passing, and then go back for more, are the greengages. These are both crisp and sweet, and rarely blemished or invaded by insects. What bliss, when you feel a bit peckish, to wander down to the terrace with the old fruit trees and pick a few handfuls - all organic, of course, as the gardening chez nous so far consists only of cutting back when we can't see out.
Earlier in the summer are the superb wild plums: pink outside, peach inside. Like the greengages, they are beautifully crisp but sweet. I can't understand why our local friends dismiss them with a flap of the hand as 'les sauvages', wild fruit one step up from weeds. These are the ones I like best, especially the fruit from the trees no bigger than saplings that grow from a pile of stones.
The second year we were here, before the land was cleared to drain a boggy area, I was picking the plums here with an old friend, filling a huge bowl together as we pushed our way deeper into a messy clump of trees, when we found the remains of an old wooden cart that must once have been used on the farm.
Wherever you are here, there's evidence of what has gone before. For so many years, poor farming families and their tenants lived in places like this. Life was hard, but rich in natural produce. Now, many of these properties are owned by wealthy incomers, who are used to buying their food from supermarkets - food often sourced from vast distances - and it seems decadent to be able to reach out and take a plum straight from the bough. And know that what is really decadent is the sea of plenty that will have to be left for the birds and the squirrel-like loir and the insects, whereas in years gone by it would all have been carefully preserved to last through the coming harsh winter.