Mirabelle plum, also known as mirabelle prune or cherry plum (Prunus domestica subsp. syriaca), is a cultivar group of plum trees of the genus Prunus. It is believed that the plum was cultivated from a wild fruit grown in Anatolia.
The mirabelle is identified by its small, oval shape, smooth-textured flesh, and especially by its red, or dark yellow colour which becomes flecked in appearance. They are known for being sweet and full of flavour. The fruit is primarily used in fruit preserves and dessert pies, and its juice is commonly fermented for wine or distilled into plum brandy. 90% of mirabelle plums grown commercially are made into either jam (70%) or eau de vie (20%). The plums are also excellent when eaten fresh.
The mirabelle reaches maturity and is harvested from July to mid-September in the Northern Hemisphere. The traditional method of shaking the trees is now mechanized, but the principle remains the same: the ripe fruits are shaken loose and collected in a net under the tree.
The following cultivars are considered part of the Mirabelle cultivar group:
- Mirabelle de Nancy
- Mirabelle de Metz
Mirabelle de Lorraine
The mirabelle is a specialty of the Frenchregion of Lorraine, which has an ideal climate and soil composition for the cultivation of this fruit. This region produces 15,000 tons of mirabelle prunes annually, which constitutes 80% of global commercial production.
There are two main cultivars grown for fruit production, derived from cherry plums grown in Nancy and Metz. The Metz type is smaller, less hard, and less sweet, and has no small red spots on the skin. It is very good for jam, while the Nancy type is better as fresh fruit as it is sweeter.
Since 1996 the mirabelle de Lorraine has been recognized and promoted by the EU as a high-quality regional product, with a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). This label guarantees a minimum fruit size (22 mm) and sugar content, and can only be used in a specific geographical zone of production.
The city of Metz dedicates two weeks to the Mirabelle plum during the popular Mirabelle Festival held in August. During the festival, in addition to open markets selling fresh prunes, mirabelle tarts, and mirabelle liquor, there is live music, fireworks, parties, art exhibits, a parade with floral floats and competition, and the crowning of the Mirabelle Queen and a gala of celebration..
Mirabelle plums are extremely popular in Germany where they grow both wild and cultivated, primarily in the south and south west. Mirabelle plums are enjoyed fresh or as various kinds of mirabelle cakes, liquor, preserves, and canned fruit.
In Spain it grows in Galicia, in O Rosal, a valley in the south of the province of Pontevedra to which it was introduced in the mid-twentieth century by Xosé Sánchez García and where it has acclimated to perfection. In Galicia it is consumed fresh, but it is also used to manufacture preserves and liqueurs. It is also naturalized in the Ebro Valley in parts of Zaragoza, Teruel, Lleida and Tarragona, and can be found near rivers, irrigation canals and road ditches. In Aragon mirabelle plums are called cascasbeles.
In England, mirabelles grow both wild and cultivated in Essex, and there are yellow, orange and red varieties in Maylandsea and at Alresford in Hampshire. The Metz variety grows wild in Suffolk at Leathes’ Ham, near Oulton Broad. One tree can also be found growing wild in North West England in Liverpool, and several may be found in the Buckinghamshire town of Milton Keynes. Red and yellow varieties have also been found recently in an ancient hedge row just outside Northampton. A lone tree found in a nature area in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire produced a massive crop in 2015.
The mirabelle is also found in hedgerows in Sutton-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire and on the Millfied Golf Course, Lincolnshire.
They are likewise found in the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia both wild and cultivated, often at roadsides. In the United States, trees dating back to the 1940s are still producing fruit in residential neighborhoods in Tamalpais Valley, just north of San Francisco.
Import of mirabelles to the United States is restricted as the fruit has a protected origin designation. Mirabelles can only be imported into the US from Lorraine, France, making true Mirabelle Plums almost impossible to get in the US.
- Titchmarsh, Alan (2008). The Kitchen Gardener. BBC Books. p. 247.
- European Garden Flora; vol. IV; 1995.