If you remember the episode in Le Tour de Gaule d’Astérix in which a treacherous Agenais innkeeper tries to capture Astérix and Obélix by slipping a Mickey into their prunes you will be shocked to learn that this is a flagrant anachronism.
The ancestors of Agen’s prunes were brought over from the Middle East by horticulturally minded monks who accompanied the local Crusaders in 1148. They grafted them on to local plum trees, creating the little light purple Prune d’Ente (from the Old French ‘enter’, to graft).
These took at once to the local soil and climate, and people soon learned to dry them out to become the famous pruneaux d’Agen. The Lot-et-Garonne produces, on average, 30,000 tonnes a year. For big fat juicy ones, look for pruneaux mi-cuits.
You’ll see a considerable portion of them prettily displayed in the purple shop windows of Agen: boxes of pruneaux fourrés (prunes stuffed with chocolate), jars of spreadable prune cream (crème de pruneaux) to wean your offspring off Nutella, and prunes in Armagnac. The prunes are also used in savoury recipes, especially pork braised with prunes (sauté de porc aux pruneaux).
Tours makes pruney goodies too: pruneaux fourrés de Tours are stuffed with apricot jam instead of chocolate and are often eaten as an aperitif, with a glass of port or the local bubbly Vouvray.
Images by david pacey, Jean-Marie Bidaux