For the last five years we've had very, very little rain. But that's all over now, with half the country in flood and my umbrella getting a fairly regular workout. As a result, this summer has been a spectacular year for plums. Now these are not the usual eating plums grown commercially or in the backyards of folk with green thumbs. All around the area we live in are ornamental plum trees grown mostly for the beautiful blossoms they produce in spring and their purple foliage. The cherry-tomato sized, sour plums they produce in the summer are mostly a nuisance for people walking on the surrounding paths and a boon for the birds and possums. Not this year though. The plum trees seem to have gone a little mad with the amount of water we've had in the last few months, and are literally bending over with fruit - the sweetest, juiciest fruit I've ever seen.
Now, my thrifty boyfriend and I were not about to let all that delicious, unclaimed fruit go to waste, so we grabbed some plastic bags and went a-picking. The result - about 20 kilograms of plums of two varieties, one yellow-fleshed and sweet, another smaller with a ruby-coloured flesh that has a wonderfully sour aftertaste. The next question - what on earth do you do with 20 kilograms of plums?
- plum jam
- plum syrup
- plum-infused vodka
- plum wine (see boy-blog post to follow)
So my boyfriend and I split the bounty and below are some pictures of my share of the plums.
For some reason, I always bought my Dad plum jam whenever I saw it at school fetes and gift stores. I don't know how I got it in my head that he loved plum jam, but he certainly got given a lot of it! I can't say that I have eaten much plum jam in recent years, so I was really interested to see how this batch would turn out. This is an entirely made up as I went along recipe, based on the verbal advice of my work colleague, Susan, who has a lot of experience making plum jam from her now (sadly deceased) backyard plum tree. I have faithfully recorded the amount of each ingredient I used from the batch of jam that really jelled well. There was a prior not-so-great batch in which I added far too much water and we shall never speak of it again. So, here it is, my successful plum jam recipe. As you can see, the ingredients list is both short and sweet.
2.5 kg plums
1.25 kg white sugar
2 cups water
First pick and wash your plums. Or buy them - it's up to you. Next, add a couple of saucers to your freezer. Do this now before you forget in your eagerness to get down to business, otherwise when you go to check the jelling point of the jam, you will be all a-fluster. It's happened to me before, so do this early! Another thing to do before you get going is to beg, borrow or (shudder) buy enough jars to hold all the delicious jam you are about to make. Make sure you've washed them all so they are ready to go. If you have a fairly new dishwasher, you should be able to sterilise them by putting them through a wash before you start. Otherwise, you will need to boil them up to sterilise the jars, but I will go into that later.
Now that the saucer is in the freezer, and you have a good supply of clean jars at hand, you can add your plums and water to a large soup pot and pop it on the stove on a medium-high heat. Although it doesn't look like enough water, believe me it is - the plums themselves will soon begin to breakdown and add their red juice into the mix, so stir every so often as the process starts down the bottom of the pot.
Keep on a nice, even simmer, stirring occasionally and watching the foaming plums as they erupt up to the top of the liquid, shedding their skins and then liquifying into a ruby-coloured gooey-ness.
Eventually the pips will rise to the surface, mostly encased in a bit of yummy plum flesh. Now is the time to forgive yourself in advance for any pips which make it through the next step of the process - you will never get them all out, no matter how hard you try. It's inevitable, so don't stress. Deep breath. Now, using a slotted spoon, start scooping out the pips. I used a smaller spoon to try and push the last of the flesh and skin back through the slots, while the pips stayed put on the top. Then I dumped the pips in a discards bowl.
When it's getting to the stage that you're not getting any pips when you scoop a few times, then it's time to add the sugar. Dump it all in, stir until it's combined and make sure the jam is at a nice simmer. The bubbling of the ruby-juice and the rose-pink foam is actually quite hypnotising. This is the stage where - aside from stirring occasionally to make sure nothing sticks on the bottom of the pot - you can leave the almost-jam to its own devices while you sterilise the jars. You're waiting for the liquid to get sticky and thick as it nears its jelling point. It's hard to say just by watching when this is done - it took about 40 minutes for mine to reach its jelling point, but I'm not sure how much it varies depending on the type of plum you use.
While this process is happening, grab another large pot or high-sided frypan and fill it 2/3rd of the way up with water. Pop your jars into the water, and the lids, and put it on the stovetop at a medium heat until it starts to simmer. I did about three at a time, but it depends on the size of your pot and the size of your jars. Because my pot is shallow, I move them around a lot with tongs, to make sure all the glass gets heated up (and sterile) before I start my bottling. I should add at this point that I am a sterilising novice, and would welcome any additional advice on the process!
Now, back to the main event. This is when the saucers you put in the freezer earlier come in handy. Grab one and plop a small teaspoon-full of your almost-jam onto the saucer. Pop it back in the freezer for a few minutes and then check it. If it looks as gluggy and glossy as jam should, then it's ready. If not, keep stirring, and pop that saucer back in the freezer for the next test. Repeat, repeat, repeat until it all looks good, and the jam is ready to go.
Bring your jars out of the water and make sure they're completely dry. I use tongs and a tea-towel, as the glass is very hot, so be careful. Now, using a soup ladle, pour your jam into your jars. While everything is still hot, put on your jar lid very, very tightly. As the jam and the jars cool, the lids should "pop" inwards as a vacuum seal is created. If the lids don't do this, you should probably store them in the fridge rather than the pantry. Other than that, give the jars a good clean on the outside, add a ribbon if you're planning on giving a jar to a (very lucky friend) and enjoy! I plan on making some buttermilk scones tonight to have my first taste on - photos to follow.