It's quince jam, or so they say

When you walk along the lanes that meander through the Goute-la-Muanne, a village in south Touraine between the middle of March and early April, the air is permeated with a strange odour.

Several years ago, the French administration stopped transferring distilling licences from generation to generation. Now that fewer and fewer have the right to make their own eau de vie (otherwise known as "la goutte"), what can the tourangeaux do with all the surplus fruit?

The "Gouttards" (those who live in Goutte-la-Muanne) have kept a very old tradition alive. This is practised in the greatest secrecy.

Our correspondent has succeeded in infiltrating the Brotherhood of Gouttards to bring you the story . . .

The preparation

It all starts towards the end of summer when the fruit is really ripe. Any type of fruit will do but overripe windfall plums, full of maggots are the best.

Take an old barrel (or a new dustbin) and line it with a plastic sheet (or dustbin liner) and put a layer of very ripe fruit in the bottom and pack it down well. Close the plastic sheet to keep out the air and stop the fruit going mouldy. Each time more fruit is gathered, it is added to the barrel until it is full.

Proving

Let the mass of fruit work away in a cool place at a constant temperature (in a cellar, for example). During the long winter months the sugars are converted to alcohol. This is a critical part of the process - the few creepy-crawlies that survive will be dead drunk.

Heating

Choose a safe place that is well hidden from view and uncover the mass of fruit which should be compact and fairly dry. Fill a preserving pan with the fruit pulp and warm it up gently.

To avoid to wasting all that "spirit" of fruit that goes up with the steam, cover the pan using a lid fitted with a long copper pipe to collect the droplets that condense and direct them into a jar. The "spirit" will be pure and clear with a delicate fruit flavour (and about 50% of alcohol). On the other hand, the fruit pulp is completely inedible!

Quince jam

Why is it called quince jam when there are no quinces in the recipe?

When the fruit is heated, it gives off a very characteristic smell which lingers in the streets. If a "foreigner" asks where the smell comes from, the Gouttards reply "that's quince jam cooking".

Click the pictures to show them full size

It would seem that making quince jam is illegal in France and, maybe, in your country.

You can admire these brave souls who keep their traditions alive, but you cannot copy them.

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The music is the Chopin Winter Wind Etude Op 25 No11 played by Robert Finley.