Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Reine Claude: The Queen of Plums

When I first moved to England, I was amused to discover that many of the vegetables had been rechristened with more mellifluous French names. But while this clever bit of marketing doesn't extend to fruits, the nation's greengage producers would do well to speak to some branding experts.* Not only is Reine Claude a far more elegant moniker, but these dusky, orb-shaped green fruits are wholly deserving of their pedigree.

First, consider the shortcomings of its competitors. Tiny mirabelles make fabulous jam and eau de vie, but eating them out out of hand requires considerable dexterity and, perhaps, a 35-hour work week. Quetsches (known far more prosaicly as prune plums)--the elongated deep-purple varieties associated with Alsace, Germany and Austria--lack the texture and sweetness required for snacking; they come into their own in dense, nutty tortes like these. The Reine Claude has no such deficits: it is perfectly-sized for snacking and has exceptional natural sweetness. (At 18% pure sugar, it exceeds virtually every other fruit.) Most important, however, is its taste--mild but exquisitely honeyed, its melting flesh exuding a refined, complex perfume.

Unlike most everything else associated with this Parisian summer, the Reine Claude has arrived early at my market. And despite the warnings of pretenders to the throne, I've yet to discover any which are less than extremely good. If the rain keeps up, I plan to sequester myself with a few kilos, half for some resourceful compote-making, the rest for dribbly eating while re-reading some equally addictive novels by Dorothy Sayers, the queen of the murder mystery.

* For the sake of total accuracy, I should note that there appears to be some debate as to whether Reine Claudes, named after the wife of King Francis I (1515-1547), are in fact the original greengage, or merely designate the varietal grown exclusively in southwestern France.

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