19 Popular French Fruits
But nobody talks about the fruits. Big mistake! They are just as important than the rest when it comes to French cuisine. Here are some of the most popular fruits cultivated in France – and what we can do with them.
This is quite possible that the first thing that comes to mind when people think about fruits and France, is grapes. Not for the fruits themselves, rather for what we do with them : wine, Cognac, Armagnac, among others.
However, grapes themselves are very popular to eat fresh, without anything added to them. And of course, grape juice is also a locals’ favorite, especially for kids.
Oh, I almost forgot: we dry them too. You know, raisins (which is always funny to me, because grapes in French are called “raisins”. Dried grapes become “raisins secs”). So “raisins secs” are used in a variety of ways, such as the classic “pain aux raisins”, but my favorite way to use them is with couscous – I know, this is not a French dish, but we gladly incorporate our raisins into this classic middle-eastern preparation.
Apple juice is arguably the most popular juice in France (probably second to orange juice, but oranges are seldom produced in France, so it doesn’t count!). Beyond the juice, it seems that French people agree with the American say (you know, good ol’ “one apple a day…”).
Indeed, not only do they eat a healthy amount of fresh apples, but they also use the fruit in a variety of ways: in pastries (the famous “tarte aux pommes”, “chausson aux pommes”, Normandy apple tart, and the signature “tarte tatin“), in compote, but also in salads, or slightly cooked with white meats or blue cheese… It’s more like “one apple a day, one recipe a day”!
Last but not least, apples are used to produce cider, one of France’s most popular light alcohols (and Calvados, if you like strong liquors).
Although a bit less popular than apples, pears are also consumed in a similar variety of ways – in pies, salads, slightly cooked with white meats or cheese… There is even cider made with pears instead of apples. But pears are not mere copycats.
They also have a distinctive, signature dessert: “Poire Belle-Hélène”, a delicious preparation of pears poached in sugar, served with vanilla ice cream and hot chocolate sauce on top. And if you fancy a French pear recipe, here’s a delicious poached pear with vanilla by 3-starred Michelin chef Anne Sophie Pic.
More seasonal than other fruits, cherries are cherished by people with a sweet tooth, myself included. At the end of spring, they flourish abundantly on farmers’ markets and groceries stores.
But they don’t last long. That’s why French people like to make preparations to keep them the rest of the year, such as “cerises confites” (aka maraschino aka candied cherries), or to cook the fruits and keep them in cans for later.
While there are several desserts involving cherries, a simple yet popular pie is the “clafoutis à la cerise”, which features more fruit than dow – the dow is mostly there to hold the cherries together! And then, you have kirsch, a sweet liquor made with cherries. (Maybe you start to see a pattern here: French people make alcohol with pretty much any fruit available to them!)
Prunes, or plums, are widely consumed in France, but not so much in their fresh, original form – probably because they are quite acidic. Instead, we make marmalade out of them, or pie. But the “frenchiest” way to use prunes is to dry them to transform them into “pruneaux” – just like we transform grapes into raisins.
Pruneaux can be eaten alone, but we usually use them for more elaborate preparations, such as “pruneaux fourrrés à la pâte d’amende”, that is, filled with a thick, sweet almond paste. Or in a “gâteau aux pruneaux”, where the fruits are smashed to create a paste, which is then surrounded by a soft yet crunchy dow.
However, the most sophisticated way to eat “pruneaux”, in my opinion, is with well-cooked lamb : that’s a classic of French cuisine. Oh, and of course, we make prune liquor. Obviously.
Very popular fresh with Chantilly cream, strawberries are also a staple of French patisserie, being a main ingredient in many pies, tarts, or other desserts – even to the point that one classic French dessert takes its full name from the fruit itself : “fraisier cake“.
This is quite an elaborate preparation, consisting of an almond-flavored sponge cake with pieces of meringue, pastry cream, and loads of strawberries. And of course, strawberries-flavored ice creams are amongst the most popular ones, especially with kids!
Not quite as popular than strawberries, raspberries remain, however, one of French people’s favorite fruits – either to eat alone, or with cream, or in a yoghurt. Being at the same time sweet and acidic, raspberries are a great ingredient to make sauces or purées for desserts. Because of this versatility, it’s common to have raspberry marmalade with goat cheese, for instance.
But there is one preparation that stands out : “Charlotte à la framboise”. This mouth-watering dessert made with biscuits, mascarpone and raspberries is a killer! Sure, it can be done with strawberries as well, but again, the acidity from the raspberries makes it the better option.
The fruit itself is not particularly popular. It’s what we do with it: marmalade, purée, cream, liquor (again!)… But here is the most interesting one: “sirop de cassis”, or blackcurrant syrup.
This is widely popular with young kids, before they get started on colas and sodas. Blackcurrant syrup is a thick, sweet concentrate that you pour on a glass in a small amount.
Then, you add water on it, the ideal proportions being 1 volume of syrup for 7 volumes of water, approximately. The result is a sweet and soft beverage, with extract of real fruit, and without too much sugar in it. The same type of syrups exists with other fruits, such as peach, strawberry, passion fruit, or raspberry. But blackcurrant is the most successful one.
9. Other berries
I could go on with blackberries, redcurrants, blueberries, cranberries and others, all of them cultivated in France. But at the end of the day, their use will be quite similar: great for marmalades, purées and fruit tarts. Special mention to cranberry juice, which we use on meats.
Also a very popular and widely consumed fruit in France, mostly in its original form, peach is the protagonist of an iconic French dessert: “Pêche melba”. It was invented by a French chef in London in honor of Australian opera singer Nellie Melba.
The recipe is rather straight-forward: half a peach, which much be very ripe and tender, served with a raspberry purée and vanilla ice cream, with a dash of Chantilly cream.
There is only one place in metropolitan France that has the right climate to grow lemons: the town of Menton, on the Côte-d’Azur, at the border with Italy. In fact, every year around harvest time, they have the “Fête du Citron”, with a parade and fireworks.
Also produced in a small amount in the same area, they are obviously very popular in juices. But there is one very typical French specialty that involves oranges: the famous “canard à l’orange“.
This “chic” dish is a piece of duck, either roasted or braised, covered with an orange-based sauce made with caramelized sugar and white vinegar. Also works with turkey or chicken, but it’s not as good!
13. Other citrus
Tangerines are pomelos are also produced in small amounts in France. Pomelo juice is very popular, especially in the summer, and makes for a refreshing cocktail when mixed with rosé wine – this is know as “rosé-pamplemousse”
There a town called Cavaillon, in the South of France, that is famous for their melons. It’s not the only part of the country where melons are produced though, but they mostly come from the South of the country.
And one popular way to consume melon is with Serrano ham – we copied that from our Spanish neighbors, which are way bigger on melons!
It’s not such a popular fruit, and yet, it can produce a very tasty, soft textured marmalade. Not something you will find in supermarket, but at farmers’ markets in the countryside and specialized gourmet shops. Goes very well with a glass of white wine or seafood as well.
Oh, loads to say about this one! Figs are consumed fresh, in marmalade, in purée to go with cheese or meat white and red… Dried, they will make for a healthy snack when put together with almonds and walnuts – just like apricots, which are just as popular and can be used in similar fashions.
Last but not least: mashed in a thick pasta, figs are the base for a popular brand of biscuits that has endured for generations and generations, holding its ground against the chocolate cookies and brownies. And that’s saying something!
Since we just mentioned the combination of figs with almonds and walnuts, it’s time to go with the dry fruits now. Walnut is probably the most versatile. Not only do we eat the fruit as it is, we also use it for numerous cakes and pastries, but also in salads – especially the “salade de chèvre chaud”, a gourmet salad with warm goat cheese from the South of France.
We also extract the walnut’s oil : “huile de noix” is a popular edible oil, whose taste combines very well with grated carrots, for instance. And finally, guess what? We make walnut liquor too!
This one remains a favorite as an appetizer, along with peanuts and raisins. Another popular use of almonds is in desserts : either prepared as a cream, or in a heavier, sweetened pasta like the “pâte d’amande”, similar to the German marzipan.
They are also used to create a very traditional sweet, the “dragée”, which is merely the entire fruit covered with glazed sugar. Tasty, but you need strong teeth to eat that!
Last but not least, chestnuts hold a special place in this writer’s heart, as they are linked to the warmth of Christmas season. In Winter, street vendors sell “marrons chauds”, which are entire chestnuts grilled on the spots. An alternative to chocolates, marrons glacés are covered with a glaze of sugar.
Then, there is the thick and sweet “crème de marron”, which, I daresay, is the French equivalent of maple syrup – goes very well with pancakes and yogurts. “Mousse de marron” is the equivalent or chocolate mousse, but with chestnut instead…
But my favorite use of chestnuts, is along with Christmas’ turkey or chicken, when they are crunchy and moist at the same time, the juice of the meat making them melt in the process. Yep, this one is close to my heart. Maybe that’s why they call it “chest-nut”.