I wanted to talk to you sooner, but I haven't had a even a minute.
I'm lucky enough to have a friend, Corrie, who's lucky enough to have a plum tree in her backyard that luckily has the most deliciously sweet fruit. However, we are not lucky that they all seem to turning ripe NOW!
Knowing that either we get them immediately or face a yard full of stinky, sticky plum goo, Cody took an old shopping bag and filled it with 15 POUNDS of plums!
My mission? It was time for me to learn to make jam. Lots of jam.
I should maybe mention I have never liked jam, jelly, preserves. Nope, didn't eat PB&J as a kid (still don't). It's probably because of my hatred of cooked fruit--although I do like applesauce... Who knows? I'm just a weirdo.
My thought was that can use it on cakes and stuff, right? I was definitely excited about that.
I've never canned anything (although I'm hoping I'm flooded with tomatoes this summer) so I don't have the right equipment--yet. It worked out fine though. I muddled through with a pasta pot and tongs and all the jars sealed!
I read through lots of recipes and tried to find the common thread and came up with a plan.
I don't know if you can tell by the photo, but these plums were on the small side so that meant a lot of pits to remove. Honestly, pitting was the "hardest" part of the whole process and it gave me pink fingers for days!
What Happened:I learned that you can't make big batches of jam. Apparently, it effects the jam's ability to set properly. I also learned that it doesn't take as much fruit as I thought to make it. A single batch usually yields about 8 jars of jam (8 oz. each) and it only takes about 4 pounds of plums.
Pectin was another big unknown for me. I understand about apples and what that does in pies, but I'd never used the powdered product. Sure Jell is the most easily found brand and they have two varieties: full sugar (yellow box) and no sugar/low sugar (pink box). I ended up trying both and found that I preferred the no sugar/low sugar option. I was more able to control the amount of sugar in the jam. It also made the most sense to me because fruit sweetness varies and the plums I had were deliciously sweet so I didn't want to add any more sugar than I had to. You want the jam to taste like the fruit you pick, right? The full sugar batch was just too sweet to me and that may explain why I've never liked the stuff.
To peel or not? I found recipes that insisted the fruit be peeled and others that didn't. I tried this both ways too and found that there's no reason to peel plums for jam. Again, I wanted the end result to capture as much of the plum essence as possible, so I wanted see the fruit. The peel breaks down and actually adds a nice thickness to the jam.
I love vanilla and it seemed to be a natural fit with the sweet plums so I added a bean to the jam and used it for all three batches. I also added a little lemon for brightness.
I ended up making three batches (about 22 jars) and now I feel like I have a clue what I'm doing! Woo hoo!
Things I would change:
- After the first batch, I cut the fruit in larger slices and cut out a preliminary cooking step too so that there was more chunkiness in the jam.
- To make sure the jars were sterile and warm until I needed them I just left them in simmering water on the stove rather than using my dishwasher to sterilize. The dishwasher sounded more convenient, but turned out to not to be.
- I prefer the pink box of fruit pectin to keep the jam from being cloyingly sweet and so that it tastes like the fruit I took the trouble to pick.
The Result:I actually like this jam. A lot. I'm never going to put it on peanut butter, but I'll definitely have a bit on morning toast. I'm also really excited to use it on petit fours and as a glaze on cakes. It would be a delicious base for a sauce on beef too. I love that the uses seem limitless and makes the effort worthwhile. Did I mention how pretty the jars look sitting on my shelf?!
Oh, I still had plums left over!! So I got creative and turned them into this...
yield 8 - 1/2 pint jars
4 lbs. plums (not overripe)
1 vanilla bean (or 3 t vanilla extract)
4 1/2 c sugar
1/4 c water
1 box low/no sugar pectin
Sterilize your jars and rings. Let lids sit in warm water until you're ready to use in order to loosen the glue seal.
Pit plums and slice in 1/2-inch pieces and place in a heavy (non-aluminum) pot or Dutch oven. Slit vanilla bean and add to the pan. Squeeze lemon juice over the fruit and toss the lemon half into the pan as well. Add the water.
In a small bowl whisk together 1/2 cup of sugar and the pectin to make sure the pectin won't clump when added to the fruit. Pour the sugar mixture over the fruit and turn the burner on to medium high. Bring the fruit to a full boil then stir in the rest of the sugar. Bring to a boil again and boil for a full minute. Turn off the heat and ladle into warmed jars (being sure to remove the vanilla bean and lemon half).
Cover the jars with the prepared lids and rings. Immerse into your canner making sure the jars are covered by 1 to 2-inches of water. Boil jars for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the jars sit before removing from the canner. Soon after removing the jars from the water you'll hear the lids popping confirming the seal.
Let jars sit undisturbed at room temperature for 24 hours before using.