Summer is rushing by at a raging speed and heat - in some places at least. Here the temperatures have been moderate for the most part, but time still flies. August almost over already - dear me! What happened? I always find myself asking this question at about this time of the year and it always puzzles me. Sure, it has been busy, as it always is, but, didn't the year just get going? Why do July and August always pass in the twinkle, while January and February seem to go on forever??
However, there is an upside to the dilemma. August and September are my favourite times of the year for foraging. Elder berries are ready for the picking and the cornelian cherry tree in front of the house has begun to drop its load. blackberries are ripening and up in the mountains blue berries are raspberries are still happening. But my latest find in the neighbourhood is a rare treat indeed - mirabelles, also known as yellow plums or Prunus domestica var syriaca. As the name implies, it is not a very wild species at all. It has been domesticated thousands of years ago, in Syria. At least that is what we are lead to believe. The plant was introduced to Europe via Greece, Italy and France in the 17th century. Today the French region of Lorraine is considered one of the premier growing areas for Mirabelles.
Although this species can hardly be considered wild for me it is still a foraging find - some old abandoned trees on land that used to be cultivated once upon a time, but now nobody cares. The ground around the trees is covered in Mirabelles making a squelchy sound and squishy feeling as one tries to reach for the ones that are still hanging from the tree. They are so ripe and ready that they fall off at the slightest touch and I am glad I could be there to harvest them and appreciate the plentiful gift.
Mirabelles, as mentioned above, are small yellow plums with a delicate sweet flavour. Owing to their small size they are a bit fiddly to work with - especially when it comes to removing the stone. I have an old fashioned multipurpose garlic press which doubles up as a de-stoner among other things. It proved to be the perfect tool. But these things are not easy to find and more modern versions come without the de-stoning prong. Alternatively, one simply has to halve them and pry the seed out, which is easiest when the fruit is really ripe.
Mirabelles are quite versatile if one does not shun the labour of de-stoning them. In France they are usually used to make jam or as a topping for a fruit cake known as 'tarte aux mirabelles'. Eau de vie, a 'high octane' fruit brandy is also prepared. Likewise, in Germany making brandy from them is the preferred way to utilize an abundant harvest. I am not a big fan of jams, and I don't care much for brandy either. But there are plenty of other delicious things one can makewith them:
This a French speciality, but has been adapted elsewhere and is often made more elaborately. In its simplest form it is just a pate brisèe covered in halved and de-stoned mirabelles. No extra sugar or anything else is needed as mirabelle's are usually sweet enough. For a tiny extra touch sprinkle with flaked Almonds.
Preheat oven to 200°C (400F).
Mix flour with salt and sift on to a working surface and form a well.
Flake butter into the center. Using your fingers rub butter into the flour.
Add egg yolk and cold water to form a smooth dough.
Don't process any more than necessary in order to hold it together if you want it flaky.
Allow to rest in the fridge for at least 30min.
Meanwhile, cut Mirabelles in halves and remove seed.
Roll out on a cookie sheet and cover with the Mirabelle halves.
Bake at 2ßß° for about 30min (until crust is golden brown)
Press boiled and peeled potatoes through a strainer and allow to cool.
In a large bowl blend potatoes, flour, semolina, salt, egg yolk and lemon zest. Allow to rest for 30 min.
Wash Mirabelles and press out the stone.
Replace stone with half a cube of sugar per fruit.
Form rolls of 5cm diameter and cut into pieces of 30g-40g each. Take a piece and flatten slightly, place Mirabelle in the middle and shape into a dumpling.
In a large pan heat approximately 2l of slightly salted water.
Add dumplings and bring to a boil for a couple of minutes, the reduce heat. (Keep dumplings in the water)
Meanwhile, fry the bread crumbs in the butter.
Remove dumplings from the pot and briefly rinse in cold water.
Roll each dumpling in the breadcrumb mixture, sprinkle with sugar and serve immediately.
Cut mirabelles in halves, remove stone and layer with the rock sugar in a large glass jar. Add cinnamon and cover with gin. Close tightly and leave to macerate for about 1 month before sampling. The rock sugar will dissolve.
Since the juice of the fruit dilutes the alcohol this liqueur is not that strong. If you want it a bit more punchy add some high percentage alcohol. Delicious served with ice cream, or all by itself ;-)
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