Voulez-vous goûter “la tarte aux mirabelles”? (Do you want a piece of the French mirabelle pie?)
Even if the golden “mirabelle” plum is not bigger than a golf ball, it has already won, years ago, the reputation of the unmistakable symbol of the French region Lorraine. Located at the three-borders-area (Luxembourg-Germany-France) this northeast region of France with its capital city Metz is also the biggest producer of the aromatic plums. 80% of the whole world production takes place here – we are talking of some 15,000 tonnes annually! Holy fruit paradise…
You might start wondering what they are doing with all these plumes, right? This tiny fruit has a very versatile use. It is of course the main ingredient for making the famous local gourmet food (for the locals) and souvenirs (for the visitors): fruit jam (la confiture de mirabelles), plum brandy (eau de vie de mirabelle) and the not-really-transportable, but to-be-eaten-on-the-spot (or, if available, just-right-out-of-the-oven) queen of all pies: la tarte aux mirabelles.
Why queen of the pies? Because it’s not just another pie with fruit inside, it’s a real visual/ gastronomic/taste-buds-using masterpiece! The edges of the pies are the only way for you to know that there is something else on the plate other than fruit. The fresh mirabelle plums are cut in two and gorgeously arranged on the top. Nothing else, the rest of the work is for the oven: to turn some of the fruit sugar into a yummy caramel crust. Some of the best tarte aux mirabelles I have tried looked so beautiful that one does not want to start cutting them.
The edges of the pies are the only way for you to know that there is something else on the plate other than fruit.
But back to the usage. It does not end here! For all the adventurous and curious ones of you, there is even a small creative shop in Nancy where they make and sell a soap… made with the essential oil from the mirabelle kernel!
It is interesting to point out that there are two main kinds of Mirabelle plums: the Nancy Mirabelle plum and the Metz Mirabelle plum. While the fruits of the Metz variety are smaller and less firm (this is the one used for jams), the variety from Nancy is generally considered superior for eating fresh, as it is a bit bigger, sweeter and has cute “red cheeks”.
While the fruits of the Metz variety are smaller and less firm, the variety from Nancy is generally considered superior for eating fresh.
The mirabelle season lasts from mid August till mid September. The fruit is simply delicious, also when enjoyed raw, and the flavour is much more elaborate than a normal plum. However, 90% of the fresh produce is further transformed into jams (70%) or brandies (20%). Since the Middle Age several celebrations have take place around the mirabelle prune harvest, usually at the end of August. The two places in Lorraine are Bayon and Metz. In Metz the famous “Fete de la Mirabelle” has taken place since 1947 and lasts around 10 days and includes several events: choosing the “Mirabelle”-queen, a market with local produce, concerts and other street events.
Last but not least Lorraine has not only mirabelles to offer to its visitors. While you are doing your gastronomic tour, make sure you don’t miss the Centre Pompidou Metz, which opened its doors in May 2010. The building is worth a glimpse even if you don’t have a time to dive into the modern and contemporary art expositions inside (check the latest programme). A walk in the center of Metz is simply mandatory too. My personal favourite is the beautiful glass-painted windows of the majestic Gothic cathedral St-Etienne.
The second biggest and worth visiting town in Lorraine is of course Nancy. Here you are in the amazing kingdom of “Art Nouveau” just by strolling in the streets. Do make sure to pass by the famous “Place Stanislas”. In case it starts raining please do use my secret hiding place: the Musée & Aquarium de Nancy, an absolutely gem for only four Euros (EUR) entrance fee. Of course there are other good “dry” escape places, for example the Musee de l’Ecole de Nancy.
Lorraine has the same time zone as Paris/Amsterdam/Brussels. The weather is semi-continental: very well defined four seasons with hot summers and cold/snowy winters. As a part of France the currency is the well known Euro (EUR).
The quickest and best way to get around in the countryside is by car. There is an airport between Metz and Nancy called Metz-Nancy-Lorraine Airport (ETZ).
The high-speed train arrives in Metz within one hour and 20 minutes from Paris. There are very good train connections with the big cities of the other countries from the three-borders-area: Luxembourg and Saarbrücken. The Saar-Lor-Lux ticket offers unlimited train use in the three-borders-area on any of the weekend days for 20 EUR for the first person and for only ten EUR for the 2nd to 5th passenger (up to five passengers possible per ticket).
Make sure you try these specialties while in Lorraine:
Quiche lorraine – savoury pie with bacon, eggs and cream (not very light, but very local)
Paté lorrain – minced pork/veal meat marinated in white wine wrapped in dough
Tarte aux mirabelles/ tarte aux quetsches/ tarte à la rhubarbe – fruit pie with mirabelle prunes/ with damson plums/ with rhubarb
Les madeleines de Commercy – local sweet cookies with lots of butter
Les macarons de Boulay – round cookies with almond flavour
Eau de vie or Schnaps – brandy made from prunes or pears, usually consumed after the meal as digestif
The tourism office of Lorraine offers a good selection of places to stay and visit (in German/English/Dutch and French). The programme of the “Fete de la Mirabelle” is available online as well.