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Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Greengage Plum, the Reine-Claude Plum in French cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Drawing of the Reine Claude (greengage) plum.
Ernest Panckoucke (1833 ?)
The Reine-Claude  is one of France’s most popular plums and its French name is dedicated to one of France’s a most popular queens, Queen Claude (1499 – 1524).  Queen Claude was the consort of King Francis I of France, who reigned from 1515 to 1547. 

A bowl of greengage plums.

The Reine-Claude plum was brought from France to England in the early 18th century. Then Napoleon I had been exiled for the second time and the French monarchy had been restored. The eternal wars between France and England ended and the first English tourists landed on French soil.  Sir Thomas Gage from England was introduced to the green Reine-Claude plum and brought some cuttings to Britain for his garden. With that circumstance the French Reine-Claude plum became the English Greengage plum. The plum quickly took Britain by storm and within 50 years, the greengage plum had crossed the Atlantic where it settled in quickly.
Greengage plums in a French market.
The Reine-Claude, the greengage plum, on French menus:
Compressé de Lapin au Romarin et Brune de Sur-les-Bois, carottes, Reines Claude – Slices of rabbit stuffed with carrots and greengage plums flavored with rosemary and the dark brown Belgian beer Sur-le-Bois.  This will be a cold entrée, the French appetizer.

A clafoutis de Reine-claude vertes
A greengage pie made with a crepe-like batter. See Clafoutis.
With thanks to Gordon Joly for the correct identification of this pie.
Carpaccio de Poires et sa Mousseline de Reine-Claude - A dessert Carpaccio of pears served with a moose made with greengage plums.
Foie-Gras de Canard “Mi-cuit“, Chutney de Reine Claude au Wasabi - Fattened duck liver fried very lightly served with a chutney made from Greengage plums that has been spiced with Japanese wasabi.

Greengage jam.
La Tarte Sablée aux Reine-Claude et Amandes - A tart of greengage plums and almonds made with shortcake pastry.

Nectarine  and greengage juice
Pintadeau en Saucisson, Rémoulade de Chicon, Reine-Claude et Oeuf Poché - Sausages made from Guinea hen meat accompanied by a poached egg and served with a remoulade, a mayonnaise based sauce. Here the mayonnaise  is  flavored with the slightly bitter Belgian endive and the sweet Greengage plum. (The endive, the Belgian endive, witlof or whiteleaf is called a chicon in Nothern France and Belgium. Pintade is a Guinea hen in French and a pintadeau is a young Guinea hen).
Soupe de Reine Claude, Yaourt – A cold soup made with greengage plums and yogurt.

Greengage blossom.
Terrine de Bœuf et Compote de Reine-Claude – A beef pate accompanied by a thick compote of Rein Claude plums. English compotes will not be thickened like the compote in this menu listing; here it will have beeen cooked until it is close to a jam.  Nevertheless, the word and the original recipe for compotes came from France. For more about the French influence in the English kitchen click here.

The very best French greengages are said to grow in the department of Maine et Loire in the region of the Pays de la Loire and in the departments of Lot and Lot et Garonne in the Midi-Pyrénées. Despite that,  as far as I am concerned greengages are tasty plum wherever they are grown.

Despite the greengage plum’s French history, all plums originated in Asia. The Reine-Claude came to France with the usual suspects, the Romans.  The Romans brought a host of fruit trees to France including plum trees, almond trees, cherry trees, apricot trees and many others. Since the Romans brought the first plum tree the French have, over the last 2,000 years developed many unique French hybrids and among them the greengage.

A Dutch Reine-Claude lemonade.
Growing up I loved the tall greengage plum tree in our garden. There was only one greengage tree; however, every year it produced an enormous crop of plums. Then a long stick and a ladder was all the equipment we had to bring down the plums from the 4 meter (12 feet) high upper branches. At that time, I learned how to pick only the greengage plums that were ready to put on the table. We would choose the largest plums and gave the plum a light test squeeze before picking.  The only problem with this method was the birds who liked greengages ripe or not. The birds won the picking war on the upper branches that were difficult to reach. Watching the birds enjoy greengages was quite an event. We had to wash very well the plums on the lower branches!

An overloaded branch on a greengage tree.
Just as I remember the greengage tree in our garden
The greengage plum in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan – pruna clàudia), ( Dutch -  reine claude verte), (German –edelpflaume), (Italian -  susina regina claudia), (Spanish - ciruela Claudia).

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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010,2015.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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