The market stalls in Bern are filled with autumn fruit and the plums are holding court. The aristocratically coloured Zwetschgen are well represented and majestically bred, with reigning stock such as Fellenberg, Hanita, JoJo, and Tophit.
The Zwetschgen may be coloured royally, but it's the queen of the plums, the golden Mirabelle, that is my monarch of choice. The pride of the Lorraine region of France, this noble lady is sweet, soft, and not a bit sour. Perhaps unbefitting of her pedigree, she is harvested in a rather indelicate manner. A mirabelle tree is shaken vigorously until the fruit tumbles down into nets around her trunk.
I can never resist these little plums, which feel like eating soft, velvety cherries. I bought half a kilo at the market, but to my surprise by the time I arrived home my cursory sampling had turned my half kilo into a mere 400 grams.
Mirabelles make excellent jam and conserves, as their flavour is so concentrated. They are also well suited for making spirits and liqueurs. The recipe for Beschwipst Mirabellen in the Migros magazine, Saison Kuche, preserves the mirabelles in sugar syrup and rum. I prefer the botanical taste of gin, so I've used that as my boozy base, though you could use brandy, cognac, or vodka. The excellent word beschwipst is German for tipsy, however I have added much more alcohol with the intention of straining this into its own bottle, so my mirabelles are more besoffen, or downright pickled.
It will be be at least a few weeks before the gin is infused and the mirabelles are sufficiently besotted. You can eventually strain the gin into a separate bottle, then use the mirabelles over ice cream or with custard.
500 g mirabelles
100 g sugar
100 ml water
one vanilla pod
about half a litre gin, white rum, brandy, or vodka
Find a glass container, preferably with a wide mouth to accommodate the fruit. Rinse the container and lid with boiling water.
Wash the mirabelles well and take out stems or moldy fruit. Remove the pits by making a slit down the side and slipping the stone out.
Stir together the sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Slice and scrape out the vanilla pod, then add the seeds, as well as the entire pod, to the sugar and water. Bring to a boil.
Boil and stir for about a minute, or until all the sugar is dissolved, then add the mirabelles, taking the pan off the heat. Stir the fruit into the syrup, then add a splash of the alcohol. Mix this together and transfer into the glass container.
Use the gin (or other spirit of choice) to top up the liquid in the container to right under the rim. Close the lid and give it a gentle swirl.
Let soak for about six weeks, then remove the fruit. Strain the remaining liquid through cheese cloth or coffee filters into bottles that have been rinsed with boiling water. Keep the fruit in the fridge and use within a few days. The booze will keep indefinitely.
This would also work well with zwetschgen or other sorts of plums.
You can let the mixture soak (without straining) indefinitely as the alcohol will act as a preservative. However, after a couple of months the fruit may disintegrate (but the booze will still taste good).
This process can be adapted to many fruits and spirits. Very soft fruits like berries only take a couple of weeks to infuse.
A really nice overview, detailing many different fruit varieties, can be found here, courtesy of preserving expert, Theresa Loe. Her blog, Living Homegrown, is a treasure trove of do-it-yourself canning and preserving.
Our kitchen has an amazing old oven. Unfortunately, it isn't in use anymore, but we have re-purposed it for our own unique needs. (Well, for the short bottles, anyway...)