All about plums > Agen prune
Black, shiny and wrinkled, this little sun-filled fruit has been part of the gastronomic heritage of France's Aquitaine region for centuries. Arriving originally from China via the silk route, the plum tree became established all around the Mediterranean through the influence of the Greeks and Romans. The technique for drying fruit dates back to the same period. The prune, the result of drying a plum, was known to Greek, Roman and Arab doctors several centuries before the Christian era. Many writers of this period mention plums (Heroditus, Pliny the Elder, Hippocrates, Avicenna...)
In Gaul, it was in the first Roman province, called the Narbonnaise, which exteneded to present-day Quercy that the growing of plum trees developed. It was not until the 13th century and the return of the third Crusade that the monks of the Benedictine abbey of Clairac, near Agen, crossed local plum trees with Damascus plums brought back from Syria, producing a new variety of plum called "prunier d'Ente" (from the old French word "enter," meaning "to graft.") By drying the plums in the sun the first Agen prunes were born.
In the early 18th century, the terrible winter of 1709 destroyed all the plum trees around Quercy. Production then gradually moved west to center around the hillsides of the Lot and Garonne. The climatic conditions and the chalky clay soil of the Gascogne, Dordogne, Quercy and Lot and Garonne valleys made this region of southwestern France perfect for growing Ente plums.
An excellent source of energy, rich in vitamins and fiber, easy to store and conserve for long periods, prunes saw a sharp increase in popularity in the 19th century with the development of merchant shipping, since they were greatly appreciated by sailors making long journeys through Northern Europe. They were stocked as provisions on board ship for their taste and nutritional qualities, and thus the prune's renown spread beyond the seas and oceans.
Thanks to its port on the Garonne, Agen was the city from which the prunes embarked on ships destined for Europe's Atlantic ports. Labelled with the name of their port of departure, the prunes soon became associated with the city of Agen.
In 2002 the European Union officially recognized the Agen prune, granting it a protected geographical designation. Today there is considerable production of Ente plums, the only variety that can be used to make prunes entitled to the "Agen" designation.
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