Lifestyle & Culture

Zero-waste culture of rural France means turning life’s lemons into lemoncello

Fresh produce: An abundance of local produce is typically shared between well-wishing benefactors.

Out here in rural France, there’s a solid tradition of zero waste. The French government was the first to ban supermarkets from discarding food, according the Guardian. Stores now donate this produce to authorized food banks or offload dirt-cheap crates of bruised goods to consumers looking for deals. 

My neighbors don’t waste anything

We round up our food scraps for the “chicken lady.” The eggs have a rich taste and orange yolks. Naturally, members who contribute to this grassroots egg farmer’s livelihood top her client list. Even our local priest is in on the “anti-gaspi” (anti-waste) trend. His lagniappe is plum liquor (contributed by local parishioners).

At first, I felt bad when he offered a bottle of his re-gifted hooch. He assuaged my doubts by throwing open the placard doors, revealing a cache of alcohol, confiture and cookies. I was being a good ecologist to relieve him of it, he assured me. He distributes “les bisquits” to children and jam to the elderly, but the liquor is harder to rake-off. 

I suppose it would be a no-no to use it in lieu of holy wine during Holy Communion.

Sustainable and attainable

Fresh fruits and vegetables are the most common sort of food waste. Statistical analytical software reports that France loses 187 pounds per person annually. That’s like 420 apples per person every year. 

Here in rural France, when we have an overabundance of produce, our provincial greenie efforts are expressed by sharing the bounty. 

Laden baskets are left at doorsteps. Sometimes you’ll see bags of greens tied to the doorknob. This cult of generosity is a wonderful custom called “partage.” But, there’s an unspoken etiquette.

Here’s how it works: 

• You first have to make friends in the neighborhood.

• Visit these friends for coffee, aperitif or meals from time to time (and remember to return the favor).

• Give house-made offerings at appropriate times — the arrival of a new baby or neighbor, an illness, wake or funeral. Appropriate gifts are confiture, fresh produce, cakes, meals, flowers or, in some cases, liquor. You know, like it was back in the “old days.”

When I first arrived in my village, I would discover little notes with gifts on my doorstep. The note is no longer needed. I know who to thank by the contents of the basket or the handwriting on the jar of homemade preserves.  

Cordials and liquors: House made cordials and liquors are oftentimes offered as a pièce de résistance to honored guests. Some are even lucky enough to receive a bottle to take home as a gift. (All photos by Alice Verberne)

Surplus seasons 

In times of plenty, we eat the freshest fruit first, create regional dishes second, and conserve the rest. Wines and white-lightening are made from anything that’s a bit too “abîmée” (damaged). For me, the most interesting anti-gaspi tradition by far is the making of mirabelle wine.

Mirabelle is a petite, succulently sweet plum from the Grande Est region of France. Over-ripe fruit is dumped in a bucket, yeast and sugar added; it starts to bubble in a day or so. After about a week, it’s drinkable.

It’s used for personal consumption, since it’s illegal to sell. If you want to go all the way and distill your fruit wine into moonshine, you’ll need to know the right people with the proper legal license since distilling is strictly controlled in France.

Life handed you lemons? Make lemoncello!

Out of all the homemade hooch, the cordial liquors are my favorite. This infused alcohol is a combination of all the anti-gaspi ideas thrown together. They’ve been enjoyed for centuries in rural France and making them is a tradition handed down from Pépère to ses petits. Below are methods and recipes. Once you have your own home concoction,  “Levons nos verres” (Let’s raise our glasses) and toast:

À votre santé (to your health) and the health of our planet, mother earth, the greatest grandmother of all, tchin-tchin!”

Here’s how it works:

1) Select a type of ripe fruit.*

2) Blend with a combination of simple syrup and/or wine and alcohol.** 

3) Pour into sterilized jar.

4) Store in a cool dark place for 1-6 months.

5) Strain and pour into a sterilized bottle.

6) Serve over ice, sparkling water, and/or cream.

Suggested flavoring ingredients: citrus (bitter orange, lemon, kumquat), red fruit juice (cassis, raspberry, cherry, pomegranate), nuts (hazelnut, almond, walnut). Optional additions: honey, simple syrup, wine, dried fruit.

** Base alcohol: vodka, rum, whiskey, gin, cognac or any distilled homemade fruit liqueur.

There’s a French version, as well.

Kuhri Citron is a distilled lemon liqueur from Alsace that has a 40-percent alcohol content after being macerated in lemon skins for two-to-three weeks as a natural spirit.

Keep in mind, combinations are a bit like cooking ingredients. You’ll need to choose wisely in order to have a palatable outcome. Ratio of fruit to alcohol varies depending on the recipe.

Want to make some cordials and liqeuers? Here are a few samples of recipes using similar methods:

Fig jam and lime cordial

Blackberry liqueur recipe

Best infused alcohol recipes

Blueberry liqueur

Alice Verberne is a contributing writer for Dispatches Europe. She has worked in print journalism and magazine production in the United States and Europe throughout her career. She currently resides in France where she enjoys tending her garden and sharing house made liquor recipes with her neighbors.

Read more about Alice’s expat life here.

Website | + posts

Alice Verberne is a contributing writer for Dispatches Europe. She has worked in print journalism and magazine production in the United States and Europe throughout her career. She currently resides in France where she enjoys visiting former French speaking colonies and discussing history with the locals.


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