Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews
Traditional fruit confectionary from the south of France
I remember as a kid each year at Passover my mother would serve up candy “jellies” shaped like orange slices. They were cute, mostly sweet, and perfectly fine but hardly anything of interest to anyone whose focus is on artisan food. By contrast, I think it was about twenty-five years ago at a Fancy Food Show in New York when I tasted the proper French version of “fruit jellies.” Wow. They were a whole ’nother world. It was much the same kind of contrast you’ll find if you compare supermarket strawberry jam to the American Spoon Early Glow Strawberry Jam (still one of my favorites, forty years after I first tried it). More—and much better—fruit combined with enormous care in the craftwork that goes into them, means that these Pâte de Fruit are a really fine way to brighten a dark December day or end a meal with just the smallest bit of a delicate fruity bite.
The first time I tasted real French Pâte de Fruit, they were made by a craft producer from Provence by the name of Monsieur François Doucet. He took great delight in explaining the humor of his name when you translated it from French into English—“I am ‘Mister Sweetie,’” he told me, smiling, about eight times in ten minutes. It is a pretty good name for a confectioner, and the name is fitting as much for his gentle, friendly nature as well as for his profession. M. Doucet bootstrapped the business in 1969, but his family’s roots in regional confectionery actually go back to his great-grandfather, Théodore Vieillard who is credited with creating the “modern” style of Pâte de Fruit in the 19th century.
Confectionery of this sort dates back over a thousand years; about five hundred years ago, it became famous in the French region of Auvergne. Although eating them couldn’t be easier, Pâtes de Fruit are not easy to make. High-quality fruit has to be grown, hand-harvested, and carefully selected to be sure it’s at just the right stage of ripeness to get the proper level of sweetness. Fruit purées are slowly cooked down, gelled, cooled, cut into squares, and then coated in a lightly crunchy layer of coarse sugar.
In their heyday, it’s said that Madame de Sévigné and Voltaire were big fans of Pâte de Fruit. In case you missed it, a year ago, Food & Wine declared: “It’s the Year of Pâte de Fruit. The pretty, old-school candy is suddenly cool.” While the headline made me laugh, the truth is that Pâte de Fruit has been super-tasty for ten centuries! You get the crunch of the sugar (like a sugar cookie sort of) on the outside, then the tart-sweet, gently chewy fruit paste on the inside. The folks at Doucet do a range of wonderful flavors. The pear is my favorite, but I love the apricot, the plum and the raspberry as well. Don’t miss the Provençal lavender honey Pâte de Fruit—an exceptional eating experience I’ve never had elsewhere. All of them make a great snack and a lovely little bit of dessert. Wonderful with cheese, tea, or any time you need a little culinary sunshine to brighten your day!