Historically, the plum tree in my yard ripens its fruit in a rather courteous manner, read: not everything at once. It has three varieties and each variety hits peak ripeness after another is finishing up. It’s quite polite, really.
This year being a year of All The Bizarre, my polite plum tree followed in kind and was rather inconsiderate by ripening all varieties, simultaneously, over a week. Seriously, plum tree, what am I going to do with ALL THE PLUMS??
First I made galettes, a kind of low-effort pie from the professionals of beautiful food, the French. It probably occurs in other cultures too, I’m sure, I just feel fancy saying galette. After several of those, I tried to make syrup and ended up with compote. Regardless, I still had MORE plums. Like, pounds and pounds and POUNDS of the fruit. Some of them were getting pretty close to south of cheese, if you catch my drift. Hm. What uses an absurd amount of fruit that doesn’t take up much room and that I don’t have to eat right now?
Plum jam is one of my favorite fruit spreads, with only apricot being better. However, I haven’t made jam in years. It’s not a complicated process, but it’s a bit …tetchy. Jam is a combination of science and art – fruit doesn’t conform to any standard ratio of sugar to pectin to water because Nature doesn’t pander to the patriarchy. Or something.
I got out my three reference books for jam-making: The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook, The Joy of Cooking, and The Ball Blue Book of Preserving. Per my
neuroses habit, I decide to Dr. Frankenstein this thing and take a little bit of info from all three. Recipe (for ratios of sugar to fruit) from Joy of Cooking, gelling point reference from Good Housekeeping, and detailed instructions for processing the jars from Ball. I am READY.
With my plethora of references spread over my kitchen table, I first pit and slice the plums. Holy fructose, Batman, were these things JUICY. I abandoned the cutting board and just sliced them directly into the pot. I added the sugar, which according to my References, is absolutely necessary for plums, because they are low in pectin and need the sugar to put the gel in the jelly, so to speak.
I start the fruit a’simmering, and in between stirring the sweet, bubbling napalm of deliciousness, I get my canning stuff ready. Jars? Check. Lids and collars? Check. Pot big enough to sterilize them? Check. Kettle boiled so I’m ready with extra hot water should the need arise? CHECK. Oh, and a pot large enough to cover all jars with at least 2″ of water? It’s around here somewhere… aha, check!
The fruit starts to get to that “Yellowstone boiling mud” stage and I start checking for the gelling point. I do this obsessively – I had a batch of blackberry jam go rock-candy-status on me once because I missed the gel window. Also, delicious. After a “few” tests, I deem it ready to can. Jar? Jarcan?
This is always a bit of …an undertaking. Jam is very, very hot. I don’t call it “fruit napalm” for nothing – this stuff is not only boiling, it sticks when it gets on your skin and burns deeper than just a regular contact burn, I swear. I chase off all pets and small children with nasty snarls if they get too close during this process. With little damage to myself or the emotional well-being of my household, I manage to fill several jars. Into the canner they go for a 10 minute spa treatment, et voila!
There is nothing quite like the satisfying *pop* of the can lids finishing their sealing as the jars cool. It reminds me that I can actually can properly, contradicting my anxiety telling me that I’m going to give someone botulism. (Yes, I know, that’s green beans.) Several pounds of plums have now been to reduced to tasty sugared fruit mash that takes up less than a third of space the whole plums did. Take that, plum tree!