It's been hotter than Hades this month in LA, and I have to admit that the heat has put a damper on my enthusiasm for the kitchen. My "cooking" has been largely confined to cutting up tomatoes and melons, opening bottles of chilled rosé, stirring up gin and tonics. Canning, if you can bear it at all, requires a strong tolerance for standing over a hot stove. My recommendation is to loose yourself in the "romance" of sweat and swelter—think of it as an old-fashioned summer.
Be all that as it may, this week some fruit came down the pike that was too rare—and too good—to pass up, whatever the temperature. The Fruit Detective, David Karp, generously shared some of his exceptional mirabelles, ABOVE, and green gages, BELOW. Both are varieties of European plums, and both are rightly celebrated for their eating qualities.
The green gage, in particular, establishes the standard for plum flavor and is without doubt among the best stone fruit in the world, on par with the Blenheim apricot and the Snow Queen nectarine. Rich, dense, sweet, mysterious—they put the more familiar Japanese plums to shame. The smaller mirabelle is also nearly candied in flavor, and is coveted in Europe for preserves. Thomas Jefferson made room for European plums in his orchard at Monticello, but today they are almost completely ignored by commercial orchardists.
I'm happy to report that David has planted green gages and mirabelles in collaboration with Andy Mariani of Andy's Orchard in Morgan Hill, California. I won't forget my first taste of each, standing on the sidewalk by his truck in Santa Monica.
The handful of green gages I ate fresh, using all my self-restraint to space them out over an afternoon and the next morning. There were enough mirabelles to preserve, so I cooked them with a modicum of sugar, a little sharp white wine and a sprinkle of toasted walnuts.
The mirabelle conserve with walnuts looks a bit drab, sort of khaki-yellow, but the flavor is mellow, almost buttery. It tastes like an elaborate dessert, but the recipe couldn't be simpler.
I may eat the entire taster jar this afternoon...
Mirabelle Plum Conserve
2 pounds mirabelles, pitted and quartered
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
a few gratings of lemon zest
1 tablespoon gruner veltliner or sauvignon blanc
1/4 cup walnut pieces, lightly toasted
1) Combine the mirabelles, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest in a mixing bowl and allow to macerate for 30 minutes. Turn the fruit-sugar mixture into a small preserving pan and gently bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and pour back into the mixing bowl. Press parchment paper onto the surface and refrigerate overnight.
2) The next day, turn the fruit-sugar mixture in a small preserving pan. Add the wine. Bring to a boil over high heat, and reduce quickly for four minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the walnuts, and continue cooking to the gel point, another two to four minutes.
3) Ladle the hot preserve into prepared half-pint jars. Run a skewer around the inside edge of the jar to release any air pockets. Seal the jars and process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.
Yields 1 1/2 pints