Posts Tagged plums

Plenty of plums

I missed a month of canning and jamming on the bike trip of a lifetime last month, so there are some jams that just won’t happen this year. I don’t think it matters — the storage shelves are creaking with jam already — but I do want to step up the pickles, add to the chutney collection and save those wonderful late summer/autumn fruits that are starting to arrive, a couple of weeks later than in a normal year.

Last week we canned peaches in three slightly different ways, but I’m saving the blog-about-it until I get around to opening a jar (why eat canned peaches when there are fresh ones in the market?). This week it was those nice, blue Zwetschken plums. I’ve written before about the mysterious alchemy that turns blue plums into red jam, but today’s batch seemed to produce a jam that’s even redder than usual. We picked a plum preserve recipe from Madelaine Bullwinkel’s Gourmet Preserves but eliminated a few steps, added ginger and cut the already small amount of sugar. It set super fast, and I think it’s going to be very nice, but it made five jars, so no samples now.

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Plum ginger jam (adapted from Gourmet Preserves)

3 lbs blue plums, pitted and quartered
1 cup water (maybe use 1-1/2 cups next time)
2 cups sugar
juice of one lemon
1-2 cup crystallized ginger, coarsely chopped

Simmer the chopped plums with the water for 20 minutes, and then drain the liquid from the mushy plums in a colander — let the mush sit around for a good 30 minutes so that it drains well. Add the sugar to the liquid with half the lemon juice and heat, gently until the sugar dissolves, and then at a rolling boil until it’s about to set. The recipe says 5-10 minutes for this stage, but ours was well set within 4 minutes. Then, off the heat, add the plum quarters and the ginger and let it sit around for another 15 minutes or so. Bring the mix back to the boil and boil until it’s set. Again, this took minutes.

Bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath 10 minutes.

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Second venture was a plum apple chutney, from the adventurous Art of Preserving, by the beautifully named Jan Berry. I got this book for $9 in a second hand shop a while back, and I see that Amazon has it on offer at $138. Maybe I should sell.

Plum raisin chutney (mostly from Art of Preserving)

4 lbs blue plums, pitted and chopped
2 lbs apples (we used Macintosh)
1 lb onions
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup currants
2-1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp allspice
1-1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1 tbsp mustard seeds
Black pepper

Put all the ingredients in a big, heavy pan and simmer until it thickens (something over an hour). Bottle in sterilized jars. Waterbath.

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Why is everything made from plums quite so beautiful?

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Queen Claude

When we first decided to buy fruit trees for our teeny garden at the back of the house, I set my heart on something called Reine Claude, a sweet, grass green plum that I’ve rarely seen in a Toronto store.

But an internet search offered nothing in the way of Ontario suppliers of greengage trees, and Green Barn Nursery, where we bought two chum bushes (cherry-plum hybrid) and one plumcot tree (plum-apricot hybrid), said they were too disease-prone to be worth selling in this part of the world.

So when the shops in Munich offered Reine Claude plums on my visit there last week, I decided to risk making a mess of the kitchen, and trying my hand at jam.

Greengage jam, to use their less fancy, English name, turns out to be an easy set and a pretty yellow-green, with chunks of fruit suspended in syrup.

I was missing all the normal jamming stuff — no funnel, no Bell jars, no measuring cups, no preserving kettle. But I still ended up with 2-1/2 jars of slightly sweet runny jam with chewy chunks, and a kitchen that didn’t take too long to clean up afterward.

Greengage jam
generous 3 coffee mugs stoned and quatered greengages (Reine Claude plums)
skimpy 2 coffee mug sugar
juice of one lemon

Simmer until the sugar melts. Boil until the jam sets. Bottle.

Next time I simmer the fruit in a little water first, to soften the skins, and I cut the sugar (or up the lemon juice). Chopping the fruit a little more finely would probably help as well.

Oh wait. There won’t be a next time. No easy access to greengage plums.

Anyone know of a Reine Claude fruit (not tree) supplier in Ontario?

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Dashing off damsons

It’s easy to forget how fast it is to boil up a small batch of jam. So aware of the fleeting season for damson plums, thumbnail-sized dusky purple numbers that melt down into yummy jam, I picked up a quart at the farmers’ market today, and was done jamming by coffee time, something over an hour from start to finish. Regular plums would have been faster, because they are far easier to pit, but damsons have that concentrated plum taste I rather like. Damsons must be oozing in natural pectin too. This jam sets fast. Watch that it doesn’t burn.

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Damson jam
1 quart damsons, washed and stalks removed
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
1 tbsp honey
juice of one lemon

Simmer the damsons in the water for 10 minutes or so until they melt down a little, and then make yourself comfortable for the fiddly job of removing the stones. I’ve tried various different ways for this. The easiest (and messiest) is to wait until the plums are cold enough to handle and just squeeze out the stones with your fingers, but I didn’t want to hang around for that one, so I spooned the pulp, little by little, into a big slotted spoon, squished the fruit through and fished out the stones. It wasn’t particularly efficient. I’ll try another way next time.

Add the sugar, honey and lemon juice to your pitted pulp (and any liquid juice) and heat, gently until the sugar dissolves, and then at a rolling boil until it sets. This took maybe 5 minutes.

Bottle in sterilized jars. Waterbath for 10 minutes.

I got about three jars, so I admit I didn’t bother with the waterbathing. There’s room in the fridge for three jars of something, or I can live dangerously and put them in the cold room with all the others.

Let’s see. There’s another (less full) shelf below this one. Is that 70 or 80 jars lurking in the cold room right now?

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Blue plums = red jam

I have never quite understood how blue skinned plums with green or yellow flesh can boil up into a rich red jam or chutney. But there’s some alchemy there that turns plum preserves into one of the prettiest jams there is, and I have a whole shelf full of the magic to enjoy over the year ahead.

This year’s plum stuff included a couple of attempts to use up the fennel flowers, plus a batch of  the chewy plum-star anise jam from last year, although I used German blue plums instead of the damsons I found last year. It’s based on a recipe from the lovely Food in Jars web site, although I played around with the quantities to match the amount of plums available. I ended up with 5 cups of plums,  3 of sugar and the juice of two lemons, along with a generous spoonful of chopped ginger root and 3 super-fresh star anise stars.

From there it was on to chutney, and I loved the look of this offering from the strangely named Evil Mad Scientist web site. It uses lemons and lemon juice rather than vinegar,  and there seemed to be a nice mix of the sort of spices that I like. I did about 2/3 of the recipe, but kept the spice levels more or less the same, as well as doubling the ginger. It’s nice, with a decent kick, and will (as chutneys do) presumably only get better with time.

But there were still a lot of plums to use, so I hit the internet again for a similar-yet-different plum apple chutney from the BBC’s Good Food web site. It’s heavy on the garlic, and a little sweeter than I would like, probably because Canadian Macintosh apples are sweeter than the Bramley cooking apples I grew up with.

Memo to Canadian growers: why does nobody here (or indeed anywhere in North America) grow a good Bramley apple, which are huge and sour, and which melt away to velvet applesauce in no time at all?

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Made in heaven

I’ve been playing around a lot with fennel flowers this summer in a gallant attempt to persuade our two fennel plants to concentrate on bulbs not flowers. But I think it’s a losing battle. The fennel flowers are a gift that just keeps giving, which means more experiments, more couscous and risottos with fennel, and still more small batch jams.

I’m proud to say that the latest venture, a blue plum fennel jam, is amazingly delicious, and paired with a sharp cheese (cheddar, manchego, an espresso-washed hard cheese from Wisconsin), it’s a marriage made in heaven.

I made just 2-1/2 jars of this in a quick evening experiment on Thursday, and the half jar is already almost gone, which means I bought more plums today to try to recreate the magic. Here was the (approximate) recipe.

Plum fennel jam
1 quart blue plums, stoned and quartered (this made just under 4 cups of chopped fruit)
2-1/2 cups sugar
juice of one lemon
a dozen fennel flowers, chopped very, very fine
2 star anise stars

Mix all the ingredients together and let them sit around for a couple of hours so the sugar dissolves a little. Taste, to be sure that the star anise flavor isn’t going to overpower things, and fish the anise out if you think it’s strong. My star anise were from last year, so they have lost a little of their pungency. I took them out midway through the boil.

Heat the mixture, slowly until all the sugar dissolves, and then at a fast rolling boil until it sets. My plums were pretty unripe, which means oodles of pectin, so this one set fast. From boil to bottle took something like 5 minutes.

Bottle in sterilized jars. Waterbath 10 minutes.

Easy as pie. Actually a lot easier than pie, if I think about it. No pastry to make, roll out and worry about.

Rating 4-1/2 (out of 5)
I love the taste, texture and set, and I absolutely adore the way this goes with cheese. But the little bits of fennel are marginally disconcerting, like the little seeds in a blueberry jam.

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Yellow plums with fennel; coriander-cukes

Our backyard, as anyone who followed our home renovation blog will know, is far too small for us to live on the produce, but we are growing heirloom tomatoes on the third floor deck, as well as a riot of herbs and salad greens at ground level. We had many meals of  lettuce and mustard greens before they decided to go to seed, and the chard is ready for harvest.

But we also have two fennel plants that are trying hard to go to seed rather than to bulb, and Vietnamese coriander that has taken over a large chunk of precious real estate. If I cut back the coriander, can I use that instead of dill in my newest batch of modified bread and butter pickles? And what about fennel flavored jam, given that fennel is like aniseed, and aniseed works with fruit?

So yellow plum fennel jam and coriander cucumber pickles were the two experiments today.

I salted the cukes, a la New York Times recommendation, and then layered them in a jar with biting Vietnamese coriander and  mustard greens before pouring in a vinegar/sugar/peppercorn/coriander/allspice mix. (I’ve been cutting the sugar each time I make these pickles; I’m down to about half of the NY Times recipe by now.)

It will take a day or so to see how well that experiment worked.

Edit: Vietnamese coriander and cukes is perhaps not the most inspired combination. The cucumbers seem to have more burn and bite than actual taste, and I can’t even taste the (also biting) mustard greens I threw in at the last minute. But I have a lot of Vietnamese coriander. There must be some other recipes out there that work.

Rating: 3 (out of 5)
It’s getting better day by day

But let me say that the jam is good. It was bright yellow before I added the finely chopped fennel flowers/buds/baby seeds, and the last minute addition turned it into a delicate yellow-kiwi, with flecks and tiny strands of green, like the saffron strands in a really good risotto. It’s a subtle hint of aniseed in a tart, but very plum-like jam.

My inspiration was Culinaria Eugenius, who took blue zwetschgen plums  and added fennel seeds and slivovic in a jam venture that took 45 minutes to boil down. Mine was a smaller batch and a faster boil, with just 10 minutes rolling boil for a surprisingly firm set. A silly experiment that ended up well.

Yellow plum jam with fennel
3 cups yellow plums, pitted and quartered (I used a quart of fruit, so  just over 3 squished down cups)
2 cups sugar (well, maybe 2-1/4 cups)
juice of one lemon
about 2 tbsp of finely chopped fennel flowers (chopped from my two fennel plants in the hope they will  grow into nice fennel bulbs one day)

Mix fruit, sugar and lemon and let it sit around for an hour or so until the sugar starts to melt. Heat, slowly until the sugar is all dissolved, and then at a rapid boil until it sets. Add the chopped up fennel and cook for another 30 seconds or so. Bottle in sterilized jars. I didn’t bother to water bath. I got just 2-1/2 jars, and they will be just fine by themselves.

My final venture was an attempt to use up last final jalapeno after buying two for last week’s peach jalapeno jam and wimpily only using one of them. I carefully donned rubber gloves to chop the jalapeno, and used it in a rather-runny apricot jalapeno jam. I think the fruit was too ripe, and I made midweek and decided 10 minutes of boiling would be enough. I can’t give you the recipe as I can’t remember the proportions, and the bite seems a little tame. I’ve got to be less wimpy with jalapeno.

But it does look very pretty — a brilliant orange with little flecks of green. The plum fennel venture is on the left.

Aug 3 edit: The apricot jalapeno venture really is rather nice. The main taste is one of apricot, which always was one of my favorite jams, but there’s also a very, very gentle kick. Interestingly, I can’t taste the bitter almond flavor from the apricot kernels at all. Maybe that one takes more time to emerge.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)
It loses a point for being a little too runny to put on bread (which doesn’t matter when I slop it into plain Greek yogurt), but it wins on  taste and color and even for that gentle bite. Maybe I’ll live dangerously and try 1-1/2 jalapenos next time.

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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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