There’s nothing like the smell of cooking plums to get that lovely warm autumnal feeling going. Even if the weather is giving me doubts about the season (it’s not) I’d be pretty sure where I was just from that smell. The taste and smell of plums completely absolutely encapsulates the feeling of my favourite season.
So I was extremely happy when I spent the night after the latest (and last) wedding of the year at the house of some friends who live considerably more rurally than I do, and discovered that they have both a plum tree and a mirabelle plum tree producing more fruit than they could use. (Well, what could I do, it was only my duty…) So I lugged close to 13lb home on the train in a carrier bag.
I would happily eat them as they came, except that we’d mostly picked the windfalls and riper fruit, so they wouldn’t have stayed good long enough for even me to eat them all.
So the first logical conclusion is this: Jam
The mirabelle plums were almost exclusively picked up from the ground with the aid of a pretty ingenious device. It was meant for collecting nuts from the ground, so some of the ripe little mirabelles were squashed into the grass by the wire that would be pushed aside by something like a hazelnut, meaning even more that they needed to be used soon.
So, there I was with 4lb 12oz mirabelles, desperate to be preserved. I’ve done enough jam-making at my mother’s apron-strings, and in other locations, to know the basics: fruit, water, cook. Warmed sugar, cook more, boil, cold plate, hot jars. But I’m generally a bit of a kitchen-hypochondriac when the potential for ruining a batch of fruit arises. So onto Google I went, and it seems that the accepted method for jamming mirabelle plums is different. But I’m stubborn, so I settled for dividing them in two (although not in half) and doing the first (larger) in the “normal” way (as set out by Delia Smith) and the second batch using the method I found here.
2lb 10oz fruit (~1kg 200g), before stoning (which is about 2lb 8oz ((~1kg 130g)) without the stones and bad bits)
1lb 14oz (~850g) granulated sugar
1/2 pt (~240ml) water
I stoned the fruit and cut out the bad bits. There was some lumpy rust on the skins of quite a lot, and as I’m lazy and I hate wasting food that is almost certainly fine, I left it in (what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger…)
I cooked the fruit and water in my biggest pan for about 45 minutes. Then added the sugar which I had warmed in the oven before-hand to help it dissolve, cooked for about 15 minutes on a lowish temperature (I am told you must not let it boil before the sugar is completely dissolved) and then turned it up to boil.
I had a plate in the freezer to test the setting point (blob of jam on plate, wait til it’s cool, push it gently with your finger to see if a skin has formed,) which took about 45 minutes to reach, possibly because I didn’t have the heat up as high as it would go, which Delia (me old friend.. O_o) recommends.
The jars were washed and in the oven to sterilise, the jam went into the jars. I cut circles of baking paper to fit in the tops of the jars to keep the air away from the surface of the jam. I think I wasn’t quick enough with the jarring though, because the “safety button” didn’t go down on the one jar lid that had one. Although I’m (pretty much) sure that’s not the end of the world, what’s the worst that can happen? Mould on top of your jam? (Don’t mention that at supper time!) Scrape it off and eat the rest. Spores, I laugh in your face.
It is a very sweet jam. I am always shocked at the amount of sugar that goes into jam, especially when you see it in all its pre-jam glory. The mirabelle plums themselves are already sumptuously sweet before any sugar is added. I’d love to try making a lower-sugar jam, not because of health reasons (what?) or anything, just because I think it’s a shame to add so much to something that nature has already made so delicious. After all, jam is about preserving, not about exorbitantly sweetening nature’s offerings, and the more of the original fruit taste left in the finished product, the better.
1lb 14oz (850g) fruit before stoning (1lb 12oz ((~800g)) afterwards)
1lb 5oz sugar (~600g)
Recipe adapted from here.
While I was waiting for the first batch to reach setting point, I stoned and cut up the rest of the mirabelles, and mixed them with the sugar in a bowl, which I left overnight (and a bit longer, actually til the next evening – I don’t think my boss would accept urgent jam-making as a valid excuse for not being at work!) When I came to use them, the plums were sitting in a pool of their own juices, which, I suppose, is the reason that you don’t need to use water in this method. And I also guess that the sugar dissolves as it warms up, but before it reaches boiling point.)
So I boiled the mixture it til it reached setting point, which took much less time (and is therefore better for my electricity bill.) Actually I didn’t look at the clock, but it can’t have been much longer than 15-20 minutes. The cold plate test did the rest.
EDIT: Towards the end of cooking, in both batches, when I couldn’t see the plums for foam, I added a knob of butter, which made all the scum disappear. Magic.
Whenever jam was made at home, there was always just a bit more than would perfectly fill the number of jars, so some was always left in a cup or dish, which meant you could try it immediately (or just about.) I seem to have bucked that trend with the second batch, with the unfortunate consequence that I haven’t tried any of that batch, except what I scraped off the wooden spoon at the end and was too hot to taste properly. But it’s only a matter of time until I can do a proper side-by-side taste analysis.
So that was the smaller batch of plums dealt with.
What other methods are out there to deal with preserving a glut of plums?