This new variety of fine-skinned, mauve-blue plums with a white bloom (the fine, slightly powdery and waxy layer) was well adapted to the soil and climate of the south-west, and to the local drying conditions. The new type of prune, made from these plums, was large and delicately flavoured and scented. The future Agen prune was born! And thanks to the port on the Garonne river, Agen soon became the central hub for prune exports. These prunes were loaded onto the “gabarres”, little towed or wind-powered vessels which transported their merchandise to Bordeaux where they could be taken aboard larger, sea-faring ships. And as the fruit was stamped with the name of its port of origin, they became known as “Pruneaux d’Agen”.
The winter of 1709 was harsh, with freezing temperatures destroying a great many plum trees. This pushed plum growers further west, into the Villeneuvois and Agenais regions where the climate was milder. Additionally, the clay and limestone soil of the Guyenne and Gascogne made this part of the south-west, along the valleys and banks of the Garonne and Lot rivers, the perfect place to produce Agen prunes.
It was the superfood of its day; easily stored and packed with energy, fibre, vitamins and minerals, the Agen plum was immensely popular from the 17th century to the end of the 19th. Agen prunes were a staple on board Navy sailing ships, and later on the merchant steamboats. These stocks of prunes were taken around the world, to every continent, where they were appreciated by sailors for their flavour and nutrients. They even cooked with them, mixing the prunes with a batter made from flour and eggs and creating the famous Breton far aux pruneaux.