Jam-making and I have an on- and off-again relationship. Some years I make enough jam to keep us fed through the apocalypse (which in these days of hurricanes and/or heatwaves seems to be upon us) and other years I just can’t be bothered. I could say it has to do with the amount of fruit on our trees, but that wouldn’t be true. I’ve been known to painfully ignore trees full of apples, quince and figs.
Luckily this year my jamming mode coincided with a plum-laden tree. Even though many of our other fruit trees barely made it through the heat wave of this past summer with their leaves in tact, the plum somehow thrived. And since I actually like plum jam, I dug up the jars from the cellar and began pitting.
Since Domenico was away for the day, the fruit picking also fell in my basket. Usually while I’m in the kitchen sterilizing jars, Domenico is out in the frutteto. So it was up to me to bring in the harvest on my own. Faced with a 20 year old plum tree whose deep blue fruits were, of course, mostly on the top branches way out of my reach, I even dragged out the wooden ladder that Domenico uses to pick fruit. But once I set it up, I got cold feet. It was just a bit wobbly and a friend had fallen off a ladder the day before, so….I improvised. I grabbed hold of the ladder and gave it a good shake against the branches. At which point it started raining plums.
As you can see below we have a lot of plums to deal with. I’m not 100% sure all of them will make it into jars because, let’s face it, there is only so much jam you (and your friends) can go through. And in fact, while in the cellar looking for jars I came across a half dozen jars full of jam from…..well, I can’t tell you what they were or from which year, because we forgot to label them!
I may poach some, to enjoy for dessert during the winter, poured over gelato or maybe even rice pudding. And I think I’ll end up making a cake of some sort or muffins.
But my main project is jam. The standard ratio of sugar to fruit is usually 1:1. But most people these days find this way too sweet, so I usually use much less. This time around I followed my friend Domenica Marchetti’s recipe, which calls for 2 pounds of fruit to 2 1/4 cups (1 pound) sugar.
My favorite part of the entire process is the color. The skin of the plums is a deep dusky blueish purple, and the flesh golden. But once the jamming process gets underway the entire thing turns a deep, brilliant and jewel-like shade of ruby. Filling up the jars is immensely satisfying. And these days, in which my time is spent writing books that take a year, and then waiting another year for them to be published? It’s kind of nice starting a project and finishing it in the same day.
- 1 kilo (2 pounds) purple plums
- 500 grams (1 pound) sugar
- juice of 1 lemon
- 3 to 4 small canning jars with lids
- Wash and dry the plum, then pit them. I usually make a circular cut around the pium, then give it a twist. This leaves you with one half without a pit. If your plum is ripe, then the pit should just pop out. Otherwise you might have to use your knife.
- Place the plums in a large pot, and add the sugar and lemon juice. Stir well and leave to sit for at least 2 hours or even overnight. This will allow the the juices to flow from the plums and soften them a bit.
- In the meantime sterilize your jars and lids. I usually just do this in the washing machine on a high setting. Otherwise you can boil them in a big pot of water for 10 minutes.
- When ready to make your jam put the pot on medium heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved and fruit begins to simmer. Turn up the heat a bit, and let simmer, stirring every so often and making sure the bottom isn’t burning, for about 20 minutes. The jam will turn a deep red color and the fruit should fall apart. The jam should reach between 210°F and 220°F, if you have a thermometer.
- When the jam has reached this stage, turn off the heat, and carefully ladle the hot jam into the sterilized jars. Fill to within a ¼ inch of the top. Place the lid on each jar, making sure it is closed, but don’t use all your force, since you want the air to be able to escape.
- Bring a pot of water to boil, filling it up about half way. Carefully lower the jars into the hot water bath, making sure the water comes up an inch over the top of the jars. Bring it back to a simmer for 10 minutes to sterilize.
- Carefully remove the jars from the water bath to a dishtowel on your counter. If you are using canning lids, then you will hear the ‘pop’ as the air escapes and forms
Note: If you are going to be making a lot of jam, a few tools make this much easier. I always use a jam funnel to fill my jars. A candy thermometer takes the worry out of things. And a set of these jam tongs avoids tears.