Stalking fruit pays off. Let me explain:
Early last Friday morning, I entered the office kitchen and saw a bowl brimming with smooth, purplish-black plums. Most Californians have some variety of fruit tree in their yards, and apparently a co-worker had brought in a bowlful of harvest to share with the office. How nice!
I wondered if this co-worker had more plums. After all, where there are twenty plums offered for free at the office, there are many more plums still on the tree that the owner is trying to use or give away before they spoil, right? In this circumstance, I decided that Miss Manners would say that it is okay to ask if there are more plums available for the taking.
And so I set off to find the person who was the source of these plums. I was stalking plums! After a few inquiries, I learned that Bonny, our office administrator, had brought in the plums. I asked her if she happened to have lot more plums that she needed to get rid of. I told her that I would love to have some for making jam, and — with Miss Manners in mind — I said, “Of course, I would give you a jar!” Bonny quickly agreed to give me some plums, relieved to have another outlet for the glut of plums at her home. I was giddy. This really seemed like a win-win. A good deal for sure.
Monday morning, I was so super pleased to find a paper grocery bag full of plums sitting on the floor behind my desk. They were all perfectly ripe and smelled sweet and delicious. I could hardly wait to make jam with them. The tricky thing, however, was that they were perfectly ripe now, and they wouldn’t last until the weekend. I would have to find time during the work week to make jam. Somehow, I managed.
These plums were sooo juicy that it took an hour to cook them down to the gel point. But the results were totally worth it, and it felt really good to give Bonny a pint of jam today. I gave her a small basket of heirloom cherry tomatoes from our garden, too, as an extra thank you. Hopefully we can do this again next year.
Yield: About 8 half-pints
Time required: About 2 hours
8 pounds of plums, halved with pits removed (other stone fruits may be substituted, e.g., apricots, pluots)
2 pounds of evaporated cane juice (a.k.a., “raw sugar”)
1/2 cup of lemon juice (freshly squeezed or use bottled Santa Cruz Organic brand)
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (optional)
a large tub or other container large enough to contain the fruit (I use the crock with lid from my slow cooker)
large stock pot
wooden paddle or extra long wooden spoon
3-4 small clean plates, in the freezer
hot water canner (large pot and canning rack)
half-pint mason jars (cleaned and dried) with new lids
jar funnel and ladle
Sharpie or other magic marker
Prepare the fruit: On the night before the day when you plan to make the jam, wash, halve and pit the plums and put them in a large lidded tub (I use the lidded crock that came with my slow cooker). There is no need to remove the skins because they will break down during the cooking process and add texture to the jam. Add 2 lbs of raw sugar and 1/2 cup of lemon juice to the fruit and stir to combine. Put on the lid and let the fruit macerate over night. The plums will release liquid and this will give a jumpstart to the process of cooking down the fruit into jam.
The next day: Clean the jars and set aside. Put the small plates in the freezer. Put on rubber gloves to protect your hands and arms from hot jam splatters.
Pour the contents of the fruit tub into a large stock pot and mash the plums with a potato masher. It is okay to have skins floating around because they will break down. Turn the heat on high and bring the plum mixture to a boil, stirring constantly with a wooden paddle or long wooden spoon to avoid burning the jam. The objective is to boil off enough liquid and raise the heat of the mixture high enough to reach the gel point for jam. The cooking time depends on how wide your pot is and how juicy the plums are, but keep stirring and boiling the plum mixture until you notice that it has reduced some and has started to thicken (30 to 45 minutes or more).
We’re thickening the jam naturally using sugar and cooking time, and so it’s important to start checking for the “gel point” after you notice that the mixture has started to reduce and thicken. To test the gel point, take a small plate from the freezer and use a small spoon to put a dollop of jam at the center of the plate. Return the plate to the freezer for a minute. (This process mimics what the jam will be like at room temperature.) Retrieve the plate from the freezer and hold the plate up to allow the jam mixture to run down the plate. The jam is ”set” when it stays in a clump as it runs down the plate.
Once the jam is set, move the pot off the burner and to the side. If you are adding cinnamon, add the cinnamon (a teaspoon at a time, to taste) and stir the jam thoroughly to combine. Ideally, the jam will taste of sweet plums with a warm, cinnamon-y aftertaste. Heavenly!
Fill the hot water canner with enough water to cover the jars by a couple inches and bring it to a boil.
Ladle the hot jam into jars, leaving a 1/4 inch of head space. Wipe the rims of the jars clean (this is essential to ensure a complete seal) and put the lids on the jars. Screw the lids until fingertip tight — just until you feel resistance and the jar tries to turn on its own. Do not over tighten the lids.
Put the jars in the canning rack and, while wearing gloves, carefully lower the rack of jars into the boiling water. Process the jars in the hot water bath for 5 minutes. Then, while wearing gloves, carefully lift the canning rack out of the boiling water and remove the jars to a cutting board to cool. Tighten the lids slightly – just an 1/8 or 1/4 of a turn — because over-tightening could prevent a complete seal from forming.
Check the lids after a few minutes. The “button” part of the lid should be drawn inward so that the lid is flat. If any of the jars failed to seal, simply re-process them in the boiling water for a few more minutes.
Once the jars are cool enough to touch, use a Sharpie to label the lid of the jar with the contents and date.
Remember: jam is not just for breakfast! I think this jam would be delicious with roasted duck breast. I will give that a try this fall or winter and post the results!