Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pâte de Fruit

Pâte de Fruit
Above: William Dean Chocolates, $5/small box
Below: Paris Caramels, $15/large box

Like jam, condensed milk, or astronaut ice cream , pâte de fruit (pronounced not like liver pâté, but as in "Pat the Bunny") is a delicacy born from a difficult challenge: how to make a perishable surplus last a little longer. During the 10th century in France, someone figured out that you could preserve ripe fruit by cooking it down into a semi-solid, super-concentrated state. Sometime later, the shelf life of this fruit paste was extended again when makers began to coat each piece with granulated sugar, a natural preservative.

I first fell for pâte de fruit while visiting France, where the 1000-year-old treat is still a part of modern life. It's a prime souvenir of the Auvergne region where it was invented, while the high-end epicerie Fauchon displays gleaming cubes of every imaginable flavor in a chic display case, and most corner shops sell little plastic-wrapped bars suitable for a kid's lunchbox.

While the US is well-stocked with fruity gems, gels, and jellies, it's decidedly lacking in proper pâte de fruit. What do I mean by "proper"? No "fruit flavorings". No gelatin (first, because I'm squeamish, second, because fruit is packed with pectin, a natural substance that is ready and waiting to become squishy, and third, because fruit + gelatin = jello). No more added sugar than absolutely necessary (again, fruit is already full of sugar). And finally, NO corn syrup, NO artificial coloring, NO preservatives; any so-called pâte de fruit that includes these ingredients is missing the point.

Needless to say, I don't get to eat pâte de fruit very often! I was thrilled to find them for sale at the William Dean Chocolates display at the Seattle Chocolate Salon. The ingredients were staightforward enough (fruit puree, wine, sugar, pectin, glucose, tartaric acid) so I bought a small box including cassis, mirabelle plum, kiwi, pear, raspberry and passionfruit (pictured above). I got the Paris Caramels box (below) from ChefShop, whose website reports that the fruit used comes directly from small-scale French growers. The flavors of lemon, passionfruit, and raspberry come through loud and clear.

Since things can get a little grim during Seattle winters, I'm trying not to eat all of these right away; I can picture myself in the middle of January, self-medicating with a daily dose of these sunny little sweets.

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