Plums: The Backstory
My tree was so laden with golden plums, it was frightening. The limbs were starting to pelt the house, driveway and passersby with little yellow grenades. Hungry — not angry — birds perched lazily in the branches watching the fruit ripen by the minute. High time for me to research plum recipes.
Last season, I made the mistake of taking the “easy” way out to preserve the bounty of plums. I spent hours picking buckets of ripe fruit. I washed them, but was too lazy to pit, chop or otherwise prep them. I pricked the plums all over with a fork, then layered them in sweet and tangy brine, allowing them to marinate as they baked in a low oven. I put them in sterilized glass canning jars, sealed and processed them. And there I stood proudly with a full case of the little sweet plums. The problem? My family and friends love plum jams, preserves, conserves and pies but plain fruit with pits? Not so much.
I vowed this year I was going to put up only what we actually eat — delicious canned foods like sweet and dill pickles, relishes, ketchup, mustard and preserves. I don’t want to endure another July where I find jars of punctured, unpitted plums lurking in the closet. Canned goods are a lot like clothes: if you didn’t wear it last year, chances are you won’t wear it this year. Only, in this case it’s about coming to terms with what you will and won’t eat.
Time to Think… and Pit
So, back to the original challenge as the steadily ripening plums wink at me from the tree limbs. For inspiration, I sit under the little golden globes with a basket of canning books and a tall glass of Jasmint (jasmine and mint) iced tea. I scan and dog-ear pages. Saving the Season by Kevin West has a wonderful chapter about plums and plum jam and plum sauces. The author experienced one incredible year with a bumper crop of plums — and then the tree stopped producing. Well, that would be one solution. But mine appears to be the Whack-a-Mole of plum trees: pick one plum, and another two pop up.
As yet another plum plunked me on the head, I swallowed my last bit of tea, took my canning books out of the basket, and began to pick. The plums were beautiful on this blue-sky summer morning. I had settled on a wonderful preserve recipe that looked both delicious and simple. Like most of my canning recipes, it comes from the well-tested Ball Blue Book of Food Preserving.
Yields about 5 half-pints
• 5 cups pitted tart plums (about 2-1/2 pounds)
• 4 cups sugar
• 1 cup water
These are not in the Blue Book recipe, but I love their flavors in preserves:
• 1 teaspoon almond flavoring
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Read through the entire recipe to be sure you don’t have to run out to the store for sugar in the middle of your preparations.
1. Wash jars, lids and rims in hot, soapy water. You can also wash jars and rims in the dishwasher, but wash the lids by hand so the rubber rim does not get compromised.
2. You can use jars, hot, right out of the dishwasher. Or, fill your water-bath canner with water, put it on the stove, bring to a boil, and immerse the washed jars into the simmering pot. They will sterilize nicely while you make your preserves. Put lids and rims in a heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water over them.
It’s the Pits
3. Is there anything more yawn-provoking then pitting fruit? At least when you peel a pile of tomatoes, you get the excitement of plopping them in boiling water and seeing the magic of how easily the peel is removed. But pitting? Ugh. Be sure to turn on NPR or your favorite music to make the chore a little less tedious. All I can say is: pit plums to measure 5 cups.
4. Pour your plums into a large non-corrosive pot along with all the ingredients. Mix well and slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. You want to bring the mixture to a rolling, bubbling boil, cooking just to the gelling point. Be sure to keep stirring so the mixture doesn’t stick. Remove from heat and skim foam from the surface.
The Fun Part
5. Ladle hot preserves into hot jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Adjust the lid and screw on the rim. Lower each jar into your water-bath canner and process 15 minutes – or whatever length of time your altitude required. This guidance is readily available online or in a food preservation book.
6. After processing, lift jars out to rest on a fluffy towel like they are at the beach. They will reward you with satisfying “ping, ping, pings” as they cool and the vacuums form.
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