Its that time of year again; the plums are ripe. More specifically the WILD plums are ripe. These grow in the hedgerows around our field and throughout our local countryside.
The plums taste good and make for wonderful pies, jams & jellies, BUT to most of our locals the plums have a far more important use. THEY MAKE THE BEST EAU DE VIE! This French moonshine is a delight to drink if one exercises care. The alcoholic content is way up there. I found out the hard way a few years back. I was foolish enough to try tasting the Eau de Vie of several local home distillers, all in one evening! As I rarely drink anything stronger than wine this stuff really went to my head. Never again!
So, to make Eau de Vie you collect the plums this time of year. It is important that you don't collect them until they fall to the ground. While still on the tree they're too green & don't have adequate sugar content. Having collected your plums you put them in a closed container and leave them there for the next 5 to 6 months. They will naturally ferment just as grapes do. You need a lot of plums since 10 liters of plums will only produce one liter of Eau de Vie.
In February you take your plum slurry to a local or more likely a traveling distiller. The making of Eau de Vie is closely regulated (although the law is flouted pretty widely. Kentucky & Tennessee have nothing on rural France when it comes to moonshiners.) You can, legally, make up to a liter for personal consumption without a license.
We have friends who inherited an Eau de Vie license when they bought their house. They could although they never did produce up to 100 liters so long as they paid their taxes on it.
In most cases you go to the distiller with not only your plums, but with your own wood for the fire, your own bottles and your own corks. He will build a fire to boil your plum juice and distill it with his equipment. Just like making brandy. He charges a fee and off you go. Our main local guy comes to a hamlet called Causvielle every February.
You now age your Eau de Vie for as long as you like. The longer the better. I've had some that is over 20 years old. It gets very smooth, but no less lethal at that age.
The above is a label I did for my friends who have the Eau de Vie license. Its a bit of fun, but the '1736' stone in the center is authentic. Its a picture of an actual stone embedded in one of their walls.
So that's what is done with plums in deepest France. A lot more fun than jams or jellies I think.