Plums (Prunes)

What are French plums? Some of the main plum varieties in France, when they are in season and links to easy and healthy plum – and prune – recipes (mainly French). Did you know that, on average, nearly 2 kilos of prunes (pruneaux d’Agen) are consumed each year by the French?

boxes of greengages at the french market

Plum Season

Summer: end July, August to mid September.

French Plum Varieties & What are Best for Cooking?

  • 80% of plums in France are grown in the Lot-et-Garonne;
  • Plums are high in pectin, which helps set jams naturally, so it’s ideal to make this spiced plum jam – delicious served with French cheeses and foie gras;
  • There are more than 2000 varieties in the world!
    The main French plum varieties: Ente (also known as prune plum, as uniquely used for making prunes – see below), la Quetsch d’Alsace (Italian plum), which are both slightly sweet and tart; Reine-Claude, and Mirabelle are more juicy;
  • Quetsch and Ente plums are great for jams, tarts and roasting in the oven;
  • How to roast plums: half/stone plums, sprinkle with ground cinnamon and dot with a few tiny squares of butter and add 2 tbsp water (no need for sugar).  It’s about the same method I use for baked apricots without sugar. Good with rice puddings and maple granola for breakfast – or served with a spicy chicken tagine.
halved juicy dark plums in a roasting dish

Roast halved plums, sprinkled with ground cinnamon, a little butter and 2 tbsp water (no sugar). Bake for 20 minutes at 180°C

  • Mini yellow plums, les Mirabelles de Nancy (most famous from the Lorraine – not just for quiches!) are sweet and moderately acidic. Best eaten at the table but also delicious in tarts. They make an excellent change to cherries in the classic French clafoutis;
  • Sweet, round and juicy green plums known as greengages are called Reine Claude in French. Why? They’re named after King François I’s wife, Claude, who adored them. The royal couple (roi et reine) were married in the Royal Chapel in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, just outside Paris. So visit the chapel with a bag of them from the local market to set the scene!
    There are a few juicy varieties of Greengages: Reine-Claude d’Oullins, Vert (Dorée) and Bavay are all particularly sweet, not acidic and really juicy – so ideal for eating at the table.
purple yellow and pink oval plums

Ente plums are uniquely dried for famous French prunes.

What is a French Prune Plum?

  • France is famous for its prunes (dried plums), particularly les pruneaux d’Agen in the Lot which have benefited from French IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) quality since 2002;
  • They are so popular that the French consume 1.9kg of prunes a year!
  • How did prunes first arrive? In 1991, Hubert Caillavet, an agricultural engineer, made a historical study on the famous prunes. He believes the Ente plums were introduced in the Middle Ages (from the far East) to the Lot region. Thereafter, Benedictine monks grew them in their orchards in Clairac and were the first to dry them, giving birth to the prune (Source: Prefet de la région Occitanie – Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité);
  • What French brand of prunes are the best? Ensure they are from the Agen region (le Pruneau d’Agen) with its quality IGP label.
  • How are the best Agen prunes made? They’re made solely using the Ente variety of plums which are harvested only when fully mature. They are then washed and dried to up to 35% in the oven for up to 24 hours;
  • To obtain 1kg of Agen prunes, it takes up to 3.5kg of Ente plums;
  • According to the official Agen Prune website, 42 000 prunes are produced each year in France. 70% are for France, the rest are for export.

French Expressions Related to Plums

“Attention, c’est le noyau dur”
Means “It’s at the heart or the core of something” (literally translated as “be careful, it’s the tough fruit stone”).

Plum and Prune Recipes

For the Clafoutis below, replace strawberries with the small, bright yellow Mirabelle plums – it’s divine!

Paris Tea Room Guide

From the kitchen