The Last of the Plum Jam

December morning.

December morning.

We’ve been beset by a spate of misty mornings in South Jersey. On a work day, except for dicey driving conditions, I usually don’t mind these muted sunrises. My office is windowless so I’m not all that affected by the dearth of sunlight, and when I emerge around noon for lunch, the soupy skies have generally cleared. But on the weekend, it’s an entirely different matter. When I wake up to gray gloom settled around the house, I know I have to kick breakfast into high gear to make it out from under the sheltering covers. On this particularly drab Sunday, it had to be a special treat, but I was at a loss: My cupboard was almost bare. Then I remembered. Somewhere, I still had some jam that was kissed by the sultry breezes of July. Opened in late October as Hurricane Sandy wailed outside, the last little bit of plum jam was squirreled away discreetly in the refrigerator.

The last jam of summer: a plum/pluot mix.

The last jam of summer: a plum/pluot mix.

Breakfast angels, this wasn’t just any plum jam. Fortune had smiled on me when I toiled in the hot summer kitchen to make the preserve. I didn’t have enough plums to make a goodly batch, but I did have some lovely pluots — the plum/apricot hybrid — to add to the bubbling pot. Both fruits were at the peak of perfection — the red plums were sugary and juicy; the pluots were piquant, thanks to their apricotic heritage. The jam lived up to its dual fruit promise: fresh, sweet and just this side of tart, its lively flavor is a bright awakening.

I searched out the jar from its clever hiding place behind the mustard and spread it on some sourdough toast. Fragrant oolong tea was just the thing to top off the interlude. A few minutes later I was ready to face the day, which somehow had taken on a different aspect. No longer gloomy, the atmosphere seemed moody with a  dramatic charge, fit for one of the Bronte heroines. If only New Jersey had some windswept moors. I was ready to explore them.

Oolong tea, sourdough and the perfect jam.

Oolong tea, sourdough and the perfect jam.

Recipe for Plum and Pluot Jam**

Of course, dancing sugar plum fairies aside, you probably won’t find many fresh plums or pluots in the middle of December, so save this recipe for next summer when the bounty will arrive.

8 cups of chopped, pitted red plums and pluots (I used the Dinosaur Egg variety.) No need to peel them.

4 cups of granulated sugar

1 lemon, zested and juiced

I like a loose-set jam, so I didn’t use any pectin. The yield is about 4-5 pints.

Wash the pint jars, lids and rings in warm soapy water. Put the jars in your canning pot, fill it with water and start to bring it to a boil. Let the empty jars boil while you make the jam for at least the last 10-minutes of the whole process.  Put the lids in a small saucepan and allow the water to heat up, but do not let it boil. You can keep it at a low simmer. This is to get the sealant soft for processing later.

Put the fruit in a non-reactive pot, add sugar and turn on the heat, stirring the mixture while the plums start to release their juices. Bring it to a boil and add lemon juice and zest. Let the jam cook for about 15-20 minutes, stirring often. If the mixture is still chunky at the end of the cooking time and you prefer a smooth set, use a potato masher or immersion blender to break it down further. (Be careful! The mixture will be hot.)

Carefully pour the mixture into the hot jars. Clean the rims and add the lids and rings and return the jars to the hot water. Bring it back to a boil and process the jars for a full 10-minutes. Make sure there is at least two-inches of water over the tops of the jars during the processing. Remove the jars from the water and let them cool on the counter on top of a kitchen towel. After they are cooled, check that the lid has sealed by pressing in the center. If it doesn’t move the jar has sealed. Store in a cool, dark place without the rings. Apply the rings after you have opened the jar. Also, do not store anything on top of the sealed jars.The jam should keep for up to one-year.

**If this is your first experiment with making jam, I recommend purchasing Ball Jar’s Canning Discovery Kit, which has everything you need to get started. I also recommend you visit Marisa McClellan’s fantastic canning blog, Food In Jars.  I’m lucky enough to live in the Philadelphia area where Marisa also lives and works, and a few summers ago I took one of her canning classes, where I learned  how to make jam to safe specifications —  and also found out that canning is fun. If you can’t take a class with her, read her Canning 101 posts, browse her Resources page, get a copy of her book,find a recipe, and dive right in.  For me, a relative newcomer to the art of putting up, making jam is a thoroughly satisfying kitchen experience, thanks to all that Marisa has shared with us.

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