When life hands you crappy plums — or when an adorable farmer who you seemingly can not deny (ahem) hands you crappy plums — it’s time to make plum jam. And plum sauce. And maybe some prunes, though I haven’t found my drying rack yet and am not completely sure it would work in this cool, humid climate. So maybe next year we’ll answer that one.
This year, I made a large batch of jam and intend to make that wonderful plum sauce that one used to be able to order in most American Chinese restaurants. It is one of my favorite sauces and goes very well on poultry and tofu — which is about the extent of my protein eating these days. I’ve also had it on whitefish and remember that being pretty good, but I don’t cook a lot of fish. Fish is one of those things you must cook and ingest within a day or so of buying it, and I never have that sort of flexibility. Also I like cooking one pot meals that will feed me for the entire work-week paired with various breads and cheeses. (This week’s pot is another Southwest-ish vegetable stew. There’s a large quantity of green chile, you see…)
But I also made the jam. This actually began last week because I let the fruit soak up the sugar and lemon juice for quite a long time in the fridge. Hadn’t strictly planned on that, but it turned out amazing. Thus I left the extended time in the recipe instructions. It doesn’t need to soak from more than an overnight. So if you don’t have fridge space for a big bowl over the entire week, you can prep the jam ingredients one day and make the jam the next.
8-10 pounds mix of peaches and plums (mine was about 3/4 plum) 6 cups sugar 2-3 inches of fresh ginger root, peeled, crushed, and minced fine juice and zest of one hefty lemon 2 tsp ground sumac berries (optional)
Wash, peel, pit and chop the peaches. Leave some pea-sized; jam should be chunky.
Wash, pit and chop the plums. If your plums are large, you can peel them also. But I prefer to leave the skin in this jam for the color and the tartness. If the skin is left in, chop it fine.
Measure 12 cups of the chopped fruit (and juice!).
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and stir well.
Cover loosely and let stand in a cool place overnight or up to 5 days in the fridge. This allows the sugar to dissolve thoroughly into the fruit juices. It also draws more juice out of the fruit.
Prepare 5 pint jars (or 10 half pints) for canning. Wash with hot, soapy water. Then either place the jars in a 250° oven for 20 minutes or boil the jars in your water bath canner — which has to start boiling while you cook the jam in any case. If you boil your jars to sterilize them, they should be left in water at a rolling boil for at least 20 minutes. I usually just leave the jars boiling in the water bath canner until I’m ready to fill them with hot jam. Either way, the jars should be hot when you ladle hot jam into them or you risk a rather nasty mess. The lids should be washed thoroughly and placed in a water bath on very low simmer until you are ready to use them. Do not reuse lids or rings. Ever. (Jars, however, will last you a lifetime.)
Pour the fruit mixture into a large, heavy-bottomed pot. (I use a Dutch oven.) Bring to boiling, stirring frequently. Let the jam boil gently — uncovered — for about an hour (I use a mesh splatter guard). When the jam is above 200°F you can start boiling it more vigorously. It is done when the syrup sheets off a metal spoon or your thermometer reads 220°F. I have yet to achieve this temperature at any altitude before the syrup is ready. And the few times when I’ve tried really hard, I’ve made candy, not jam. So you be the judge. The temperature is not as important as that thick syrupy texture. NOTE: If you do try for 220°, it will take about 6 days for the jam to climb those last 5°F. (Feels like it anyway… especially as the jam requires constant stirring and even so will spit scalding, sugary droplets all over everything.)
When your jam is cooked, immediately ladle it into the hot, sterilized jars, leaving about half an inch of head space in the jar. Wipe the jar rims clean and adjust the lids, screwing the rings on firmly but not too tight.
Boil in a water bath canner for 10 minutes (5 for half-pint jars). If you are at elevation, add 5 minutes for the first 1000 feet, then another 5 minutes for every 2000 feet above that. If you’re nervous about such things (with good reason) more time is better than less and will not harm the jam. There are charts online to help you decide the time. Begin timing when the water reaches a full rolling boil. (Which, again, will take about 6 days…)
Let the jars cool on a wire rack overnight.
You will hear the seals pop very soon after taking them out of the boiling water. But check the seal by removing the wire ring and gently nudging the lid with your thumb. It shouldn’t budge.
There is a debate on storing with rings or without. I tend to store with rings on because I also tend to cut cotton fabric to cover the lid to make decorative holiday gifts for my family — none of whom make jam. Win-win! But if you opt against the fabric covering, it’s probably better to store jars without the rings. Rings can be discarded. (Again, don’t reuse any of the lid apparatus — but do recycle it!)
Final and essential step: clearly label the jars with the contents and the date. You will not remember. Trust me on that one… Stick-on labels and a Sharpie are well worth the expense.
©Elizabeth Anker 2021