Plums, plums and plums

I admit I’m getting bolder in the jams I make this year as I learn more about what works and what doesn’t and get a better idea of what sort of jam might set. Things like strawberries, rhubarb and peaches need a lot of help to turn into a jam, which seems to mean macerating the fruit with sugar overnight, fishing the fruit out of the sugar syrup that emerges and boiling that down a bit before throwing the fruit back in and cooking it anew. Plums and on the other hand set like  nobody’s business, but have a tendency to get a little chewy for my taste. (Cherry jam is just chewy, and unless the spouse asks really nicely, I’m not planning to make it again.)

But the other thing is that I’m daring to mix and match a little, taking a bit of one recipe and squirting in a bit of another, or abandoning recipes entirely with a guess at the appropriate proportion of fruit sugar and lemon juice, which are my ingredients for just about any jam. I’ve not had any total failures, although there are a couple of jams that I’m not quite sure about, for one reason or another.

My latest ventures are probably just about the last of the season (unless I try something with pears), and after yellow plum jam and red plum jam (edit: I am starting to wonder if the red plums are actually something called pluots, which are a plum/apricot hybrid), I switched to blue plums this month. It worked, although I admit to tentative reservations, as listed below.

First off came what the farmers market here seems to call prune plums, although I know them by their wonderful tongue-twister German name of Zwetschken. They are a medium small, purple-blue plum with a dusty finish, which are tart when unripe and amazingly sweet and juicy on the rare occasion that the farmers leave them on the trees long enough to ripen properly. My mother used these for Zwetschkenkuchen, with cinammon-sprinkled fruit atop a semi-sweet yeast  dough that was baked so the plums melted into the dough. I used them for a not-quite-regular jam, adding a couple of spoons of Chinese five-spice for a bit of a kick.

My inspiration was the excellent Food in Jars web site, which raved about a plum-star anise jam recipe. But the local Chinese supermarket looked at me blankly when I asked for star anise, so I switched to five-spice.

Vaguely following the Food in Jars recipe, I let 5 cups of fruit, three of sugar, the juice of two lemons and the two teaspoons of five-spice sit around for a day or so before boiling them all up together to the gel point, which went scary fast. It has a lovely set, and a lovely taste, but the plums are a little bit chewy, and I could have cut the sugar. Three out of five, perhaps.

From there I switched to damsons, the tiny, dusty-blue plums that bind the flesh to the stone in an almost impossible way. A couple of British recipes (one was from the BBC) suggested simmering the fruit in a little water first to soften the skin (and prevent the skins getting chewy), and they insisted that a good simmer would let the stones separate out and float to the top, so you could fish them out before you add the sugar and boil it up to jam.

This jam was also pretty easy, and this time I did throw in the star anise, which was available downtown if not at the Chinese supermarket. Tragically it exactly filled four jars, so I can’t offer a taste test yet, beyond saying that the stuff I licked out of the pan was pretty awesome. But there are bound to be stones I missed, so we’ll have to eat it carefully.

Damson jam with star anise

Simmer 5 cups of damsons with a cup and a bit of water and three star anise stars until the stones of the damsons separate out fairly easily, and remove as many stones as you can find without spraying dark, red damson juice all over the kitchen. (I only had three cups of damsons, but I had enough of the other plums to make up five cups of fruit. I may have to make this jam again with damsons only, for taste-test comparison purposes)

Add a scant 3 cups of sugar, simmer until the sugar dissolves and then boil at a rolling boil until you think it’s set nicely. It took less than five minutes.

Remove the star anise stars, and bottle in sterilized jars. Waterbath for 10 minutes to meet tough U.S. waterbathing standards.

My reservation: Surely there has to be an easier way to remove the stones.

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2 Comments »

  1. I made some damson jelly recently, it is delicious. This looks great. Lovely blog.

  2. Ah a jelly. That’s one way to get the stones out. 🙂

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