If you want to get below the surface in Alsace, which can be overwhelmingly touristy, a good guide is Mimi Freudenreich. Her family have been making wine in Eguisheim since 1653. It is to her that I turn for great recipes, knowledge of local traditions, and an update on the current issues
concerning everyday life in her village and the surrounding area. She serves on the local council, wins prizes for her Coq au Riesling and Spaetzles, the noodles of Alsace, and was a mine of information when I was researching Recipes from the French Wine Harvest. Ever welcoming, she is happy to share culinary tips,and a good meal.
Here is her recipe for a wonderful open plum tart, made with a pâte sablée, a crumbly, sweet pastry. In Alsace they fill it with a local plum which is large, oval, dark-skinned and quite sharp tasting, known as Quetsch or Quetsche. They are in season in September, when these tarts are very popular. Other plums work fine, as long as you remember to adjust the sugar according to their natural sweetness.
FOR 4 - 6 PEOPLE
For the pastry to line a 20 cm (8 in) tart tin (usually with a removable-base and fluted-edges):
3 teaspoons white caster sugar 175 g (6 oz) plain flour, sieved
pinch of salt 90 g (3 oz) butter at room temperature 4 tablespoons iced water
For the filling:
1 kg (2 lb) ripe plums 30 - 60 g (1 - 2 oz) caster sugar
a little powdered cinnamon
icing sugar to sprinkle
Preheat the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F, 200°C. Put a heavy baking sheet in the middle.
Grease a 20 cm (8 in) tart tin with butter. Add the salt and sugar to the flour in a mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flour. Add about half the water to moisten - adding more if it seems necessary - the pastry should be crumbly, not sticky and wet. Straightaway make it into a ball and put it into the middle of the buttered tart tin. Use your hands to press it down, spreading it over the base of the tin and gradually up round the edges. Trim off any extra round the edges.
Halve or quarter the plums (depending on size) and take out the stones. Arrange them on the pastry, in concentric circles. The fruit shrinks as it cooks, so it needs to be closely packed. Sprinkle with the sugar and cinnamon. Bake on top of the baking sheet in the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes.
When the tart is cooked, slide it out of the tin and onto a cooling rack. It can be served warm or cold with a little icing sugar sprinkled over it. And maybe pour a glass of local fruit brandy, or one of the vendanges tardives sweet wines?