For the serious country cook, bachelor or not, these fruits macerated in alcohol are a summer-long project. First into the jar go cherries. Then, as the season advances, apricots, peaches, greengage or yellow Mirabelle plums, red plums, and finally plump green or purple figs follow. Each layer is sweetened with sugar and covered with white alcohol, which in the old days was locally distilled and could taste like rocket fuel. The spirit permeates the fruit and prevents it from fermenting, while the fruit juice slowly imbues the liquid, creating a bracing liqueur. After a three-month wait?or longer if you can manage to wait?the fruits are ready to serve.
Versions of Fruits du Vieux Garçon can be found all over France. Where I live in Burgundy, marc (the French version of grappa) is the preferred alcohol. In Alsace, you will find plums in white alcohol, in Bordeaux it may be cherries in Cognac, and in Gascony, prunes in Armagnac. For all these spirits, vodka is a neutral alternative. A tall jar is needed, preferably of glass so the brightly colored fruits are displayed, packed in layers; a large domestic canning jar does fine. The fruits should be ripe but still firm, and firm fruits do better than berries, which tend to break up.
Makes 2 quarts/2 liters fruits in liqueur
- 8 ounces/225 g cherries
- 8 ounces/225 g apricots
- 8 ounces/225 g white peaches
- 8 ounces/225 g green or yellow plums
- 8 ounces/225 g red plums
- 8 ounces/225 g red or green figs
- About 3 cups/600 g sugar, more if needed
- 1 bottle (750 ml) vodka or Cognac, more if needed
- 2-quart/2-liter glass jar
Discard the stems from the fruits and wipe the fruits with a cloth. Prick the skins with a needle so the alcohol penetrates. Large fruits such as peaches should be halved, discarding the pits. Roughly measure the fruits in a 4 cup/1 liter measuring jug, and for every cup, measure 1/2 cup/100 g sugar. Pack the fruits loosely in the jar and sprinkle the sugar on top. Add enough vodka just to cover the fruits. Cover the jar with a cloth or a loose lid and store in a cool, dark place.
As fruits come into season, keep adding them with more sugar and alcohol, using different colors so the layers are distinct. Taste from time to time, adding more sugar if needed. When the jar is full, seal it. If any sugar remains undissolved, turn the jar upside down to mix and dissolve the sugar. Store the fruits for at least 3 months before eating so the flavor mellows.
photo by France Ruffenach
Excerpted from THE COUNTRY COOKING OF FRANCE
by Anne Willan, Chronicle Books, 2007.