'Remember how we had to do square dancing in school?,' Peter and l laughed as we asked the same question of each other at exactly the same moment! We were watching a program featuring actress Caroline Quentin visiting Loch Lomond and the Trossachs in the South West of Scotland. She was learning to dance the Scottish Cèilidh or Kaley and, although it looked like great fun, it reminded both of us how much we had disliked the dancing classes when we were still in school.
So, what's Cèilidh dancing got to do with my recipe? Absolutely nothing, except that earlier in the afternoon I had tried my hand at making spiced mirabelle plum sauce. I'd also been out to visit my friend, Jonathan Banks, who owns a rather beautiful and rambling old orchard at Pialligo, not too far from where we live. Jonathan had saved a box of ripe mirabelle plums for me, which he said would be perfect for making syrup or sauce.
Mirabelles are tiny, sweet plums barely bigger than a cherry. It was Jonathan's exquisite mirabelle syrup that I drizzled over my Hungarian plum dumplings. Jonathan was kind enough to share his recipe with me, however the process of draining the syrup overnight in a jelly bag didn't appeal to me on this occasion, so I searched for another recipe online. Food writer, Garrett McCord, was happy for me to adapt his recipe, which I found on his blog, Vanilla Garlic. Thank you, Garrett. He says he likes to serve the sauce with ice cream, cheese plates and pancakes. I think it will go well with my dumplings too!
The original recipe called for three cups of sugar, but instinct told me that that quantity sounded as though it may be too sweet for my taste buds, so I used only two cups of raw sugar, but could have perhaps used even less. To counter the sweetness, I added some champagne wine and strawberry vinegar. I also consulted the wonderful Jane Grigson, author of Good Things, the namesake of this little blog. In her Fruit Book, Ms Grigson suggests that mirabelles should be cooked whole and then the stones removed after cooking. It was fiddly faddly, but worth the effort. The verdict on the finished product? Exquisite!
SPICED MIRABELLE PLUM SAUCE
6-7 cups Mirabelle plums, washed, left whole
2 cups raw sugar (less if preferred)
1 vanilla bean, scraped (or 2g Heilala ground vanilla beans)
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
juice of 2 small lemons
3-4 tablespoons champagne wine and strawberry vinegar+
Combine all of the ingredients in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Slowly bring to a simmer, stirring over a medium-high heat, until the sugar dissolves. Use a simmer mat if you have one, to prevent the sauce from catching. Allow the sauce to simmer gently for 35-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens. Mash the fruit as it cooks and remove as many of the stones as you can with a slotted spoon.
Meanwhile, sterilise a 2-cup bottle or jar on a baking tray in the oven at 120 degrees C. Working quickly, ladle amounts of the sauce into a wire colander which you have sitting over a Pyrex bowl or jug, and press the sauce through the sieve, straining out the stones and any remaining tough skins. Return the sauce to the pot straight away, reheat it and then carefully ladle the hot sauce into the hot sterilised jar or bottle, using a wide necked funnel. Seal immediately. Makes 2 cups.
+ Use a sweet fruit vinegar, such as raspberry, if you don't have champagne wine and strawberry.
The verdict? Exquisite!
Incidentally, my fellow cook and food writer friend, Karen Burns-Booth who blogs at Lavender and Lovage, grows mirabelle plums in her French garden and shares a lovely recipe for spiced mirabelle plum galette here. If you'd like to try Jonathan's recipe for mirabelle syrup, let me know and I will email it to you.
Tell me dear readers, did you enjoy square dancing when you were at school? And have you tried mirabelle plums?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.