Everybody knows they’re good for you – in fact, last time I ate at a table d’hôte, at the end of a particularly generous meal, Mamie kept thrusting them at me dowsed in brandy, promising they’d help with, well, you know…
In France, the Agen prune (pruneau) has PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status and is produced from a single variety of plums: the Ente plum (prune).
Ente plums, which also have PGI status, are harvested from mid-August to mid-September by more than 1,140 producers and seasonal workers. Plums actually hail from China originally and have been grown in France since the Middle Ages. Today, they are mainly cultivated in the Lot-et-Garonne.
To ensure your prunes are sweet and juicy, the plums must be picked when they are fully ripe and fall easily from the tree if you shake them. Once picked, they are spread on racks and placed in a drying tunnel for up to 24 hours and then they are sorted by hand to ensure only the very best make it through.
It takes around 3kg of plums to make 1kg of prunes. There are a couple of different types of prune, too – the mi-cuit, which is dried until its moisture content is 35%, and the le pruneau surhumidifié, which undergoes extended rehydration, making it plump and juicy.
Some 40,000 tonnes of Agen PGI prunes are produced per year, 30% of which is for overseas markets, so the Agen prune is helping to keep the whole world regular!