Let’s talk jelly. Not the wobbly rubber passed off as dessert these days. The real thing: Auvergne’s world-famous (and original) fruit jellies. Once blue bloods’ treat of choice, the sugar-coated pâte de fruits have hit the sweet spot for centuries. Served on cheese boards, as mignardises or tacked onto an afternoon petit crème, the moreish bonbons are a firm French staple, especially in their birthplace of Clermont-Ferrand.
Originally described as confitures sèches or dry jam, the jellies date back to the 10th century when locals took to candying fruit, mainly apricot, picked from the area’s sweep of lush orchards. Before long, gourmands and royals alike were shovelling the region’s jellies by the cartload. And the confections proved just the ticket to keep the rich and mighty sweet, not least the Cardinal de Richelieu who, in 1629, was presented with six 133-pound trunks heaving with candied apricots during a flying visit to the city.
Among the jellies’ most ardent fans were sugar-fiend Madame de Sévigné, who well and truly sparked a dry-jam craze among her exalted circles, and Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire. The demand for the pastilles hit full pelt in the 19th century, when Napoleon III’s brother-in-law, the wily Duke de Morny, set up the Bourdon sugar plant on the outskirts of Clermont-Ferrand, providing confectioners with unlimited supplies of beet sugar on their doorstep.
So what makes Clermont’s artisan pâte de fruits unique – and far superior to the bland store-bought alternatives? As with most delicacies, it all comes down to quality and, in this case, pulp content. To earn the hallowed pâte de fruits title, traditional jellies must be made from ‘noble fruit’ – that is apricot, pear, quince (anything but apple) – using at least two thirds of rich pulp. And they should never wobble!
TOP THREE FRUIT JELLY CONFECTIONERS
Now that we’ve whetted your appetite, here are the best addresses to get your hands on Clermont’s sweet jellies
LA CHAUMIÈRE – MARTIAL RAY
The new kid on the block, Ray’s inventive flavours have been tickling palates since 2005. 4, rue Saint Dominique, www.martial-ray.com
LA RUCHE TRIANON
An institution, the pâtisserie and confectionery has hit the sweet spot since the 1960s. 6, rue du 11 Novembre, www.laruchetrianon.fr
The historic chocolaterie has been whipping up ‘dry jam’ since the 16th century.
3, rue Blatin, www.vieillard.fr
From France Today magazine