Revival for forgotten fruit

About 75% of the world’s mirabelles come from Lorraine, where the harvest starts this month and where producers are finding new ways to promote this small, very sweet and tasty fruit.

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Bruno Colin has been growing mirabelles for 30 years and was one of the young producers who planted new orchards in the late 1980s when production was at risk of dying out.

“We saw a future for this fruit and wanted to make sure it didn’t disappear from our landscape. A mirabelle tree lasts for between 30 and 40 years and the orchards were old and no-one wanted to renew them.

“I had just come out of agricultural college and saw with the opening-up of Europe and change in tastes there was an opportunity for a renaissance of this fruit which is just right for the modern world.”

In 1996 the mirabelle was the first fruit to receive the IGP label, guaranteeing its origin and quality. It is a species of plum, but growers see the word prune as old-fashioned while ‘mirabelle’ has a fresher appeal.

Fully mature trees in ideal conditions produce about 80kg of fruit each harvest, from mid-August to September and Lorraine has 250,000 trees.

All 250 producers are under one label, Végafruits, and in 2014 they grew 10,000 tonnes ... with 25% exported and
the rest snapped up by nine million people in France.

Keen to market to the young generation, Végafruits is selling at summer rock festivals such as this month’s Rock en Seine (August 28-30 at Parc de Saint-Cloud in Paris). The 120,000 attending – 75% are under 35 – can taste mirabelles, meet producers and, of course, buy them. They cost €3 to €5 a kilo.

Mr Colin says it takes a great deal of work to produce mirabelles: “It is capricious. I also grow peaches and you can depend on a good harvest from them every year. A mirabelle is like a teenager – difficult.

“We have to know how to prune them. Sometimes there are too many flowers and you have to remove just the right number to make sure the tree produces a quality fruit. It takes years to learn the ways of the mirabelle tree.”

Patience, too: “A tree won’t start producing until it is seven years old and there won’t be a good harvest and a return on initial investment for 10 years.

“Lorraine is best for growing. They like our continental climate with warm days but cold nights, even in summer. They close down at night and rest which is important and allows them to mature. They are tough and hardy and thrive on our heavy, clay soils. Our enemies are late frosts, hail and rain while picking.”

The six-week season means Végafruits is always looking for ways to sell year-long: 65% of the crop is made into jams, tarts, juices, baby food, dried fruits and, recently, halving, stoning and bagging them for the freezer. Oil from the kernels is used in beauty products.

About 10% of the crop is used in eau de vie and fruit for processing is harvested by a machine that shakes the tree so ripe fruit tumbles into waiting nets. The remaining 25%, sold fresh, is picked by hand.

Mr Colin enjoys mirabelles and says: “I buy two barquettes, one to eat on the way home in the car and the second to cook with. Because the fruit is slightly acid it goes really well with roast chicken or duck.

“And with its delicate flavour you can make great desserts.”

Mirabelles de Lorraine with foie gras


  • 4 fine escalopes of uncooked foie gras
  • 30 Mirabelles de Lorraine
  • Fleur de sel de Guérande and pepper


  • Rince, dry, halve and stone the mirabelles
  • Cut the foie gras into pieces about the same size as the mirabelles
  • Quickly fry the foie gras escalopes on both sides and season
  • In the same pan brown the mirabelles on their inside cut surface only
  • Put them on cocktail sticks or short skewers alternating mirabelle and foie gras pieces and serve

Tarte Grand-Mère Mirabelles de Lorraine


  • 250g shortcrust pastry
  • 150g apple purée
  • 1 egg
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 25g melted butter
  • 500g mirabelles
  • Dash of Eau-de-vie Mirabelles de Lorraine (optional)


  • Line tart tin with pastry and put thin layer of apple purée in bottom
  • Sprinkle with cinnamon and arrange the stoned mirabelles around the tart tin
  • Melt the butter
  • In a saucepan heat the egg and the sugar whisking the mixture continuously
  • Add melted butter. Pour into tart
  • Cook at 180°c for 20 minutes

Chicken Tagine with Mirabelles de Lorraine


  • 500g stoned mirabelles
  • 800g chicken breast cut into small pieces
  • 200g blanched whole almonds
  • 100g sultanas
  • 6 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp cinnamon and cumin
  • 30g butter, 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bunch of fresh coriander
  • Salt and pepper


  • Gently fry onions in melted butter and set aside
  • Heat olive oil in the tagine and then brown the chicken
  • Add honey and fry mirabelles
  • Add cinnamon and cumin, salt, pepper and add 20cl water.
  • Cover, simmer one hour
  • Add almonds with cooked onions and sultanas
  • Cook for 30 minutes
  • Serve with coriander garnish

Clafoutis (6 mini)


  • 750g mirabelles de Lorraine
  • 35g flour
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 200g milk
  • 200g pouring cream
  • 4 eggs, 3 whole 1 yolk
  • 6 x 150ml moulds


  • Heat oven to 180°c
  • Mix flour, almonds and sugar. Add milk, cream and all eggs
  • Rince, dry mirabelles, halve and stone
  • Put half mirabelles in moulds and cover with half mixture. Cook 5 minutes
  • Add the rest of the mirabelles and cover with remaining mixture so you can still see the mirabelles
  • Cook for 15 minutes

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