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Fruit Fest

'Thanks to its lovely natural settings and its mild climate, Provence has proven a country blessed by the gods.' Auguste Escoffier (1846 to 1935)

When it comes to fruit, Provence is a garden of Eden. Wild fig and apricot trees line country roads. In the summer, gardens are bursting with les fraises (strawberries) and les melons (melons). And orchards flaunt fruit trees laden with les cerises (cherries), les pêches (peaches) and les prunes (plums).

And of course, when you walk into an open-air market in any Provençal town or village, you will experience a riot of fruit color second to none.

But amazingly enough, you can take the Provence fruit extravaganza a step further when you visit Lilamand Confiseur in St. Rémy south of Avignon.* There you will see what I call "fruit on steroids." Founded in 1866, Lilamand makes glacéed or crystallized fruit from a centuries-old recipe inspired by Nostradamus among others.

How does la fabrication (the process) work? Artisans first extract the water and acid from the fruit. Then they replace it with un sirop de sucre (a sugar syrup). The entire process takes nearly three months, and the finished products look and feel like 'just-picked' fruit.

While looks are important, the true essence of candied fruit lies in the taste. Lilamand's artisanal alchemy results in fruits that taste almost more real than real. When I was last in the shop, I asked la vendeuse (the saleswoman) which fruits attracted the most customers. Apricots, melons and figs, she replied.

I can attest that the apricots and melons are sublime. I also tried the strawberry and l'ananas (pineapple). You can buy pineapple by the slice but truly stunning were the entire pineapples for sale. I was fascinated to think the entire fruit could more than survive the candying process.

Now that I've discovered Lilamand, I can have my fruit and eat it too. While in Provence, I enjoy the fresh fruits as much as possible and then I take a stash of Lilamand treasures back over the Atlantic. That's what I call a fruitful trip.

* Lilamand is located at the edge of St. Rémy in the old leatherworks shop at 5 avenue Albert Schweitzer, 13210 St Rémy de Provence.

November 12, 2008

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