Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Plums, plums, plums

Harvest time is upon us, and with it comes an opportunity to get creative with all the gorgeous fruit and veg floating around. Having already pilfered rhubarb from my kind-hearted workmates, and raiding local sloe bushes, I'm starting to drive everyone I know half mad by asking them if I can pay a visit to their fruit trees, or asking for advice on where to find certain fruits so I can go foraging.

But it's thanks to Freecycle, (and a lovely couple with an overactive fruit tree) that I now have a rather large amount of Victoria plums to play around with. Plums are one of my favourite fruits. They are incredibly versatile, and will adapt to pretty much any dish or drink you see fit to create with them. Plus they're perfectly delicious eaten as they are. Having perused my local Freecycle page, I came across someone desperate to get rid of the crate-loads their tree has produced this year. So now I have a bag full residing in my fruit bowl, and another tucked away in the freezer (alongside the rest of the rhubarb and some gooseberries).

It would now appear that my weekend may, prematurely, have a plan put in place. And that plan is plum-shaped.

I've always wanted to try my hand at making plum wine, a rich, fruity drink that would make a great gift for someone. That's if you can bear to give it away. Frozen plums, this is what you will find yourselves being used for in the near future.

For now, I'll settle myself to the task of turning the unfrozen batch into yummy, plummy jam. Jam can be incredibly easy, or a complete pain in the rear, but I've found that my success rate with plum jam is pretty good (however I'll be staying away from figs in the future. At least in a jam-like capacity).

Jam is essentially 3 ingredients - fruit, sugar and water, the water not always being necessary. I really do advise equipping yourself with a proper jam pan, a preserving thermometer and a long-handled wooden spoon if you are planning on making a lot of preserves. They make life so much easier, particularly when finding the setting point of the jam. Also, be sure to check whether the fruit you will be using is high in pectin, or is it will need an additional boost. Plums are naturally high in pectin, so just using preserving or jam sugar will do.

  • Wash and stone 1kg of plums, but do not discard the stones, they'll come in handy later. Cut out any bruising on the fruit and place them in your pan with 150ml water. Bring to the boil.
  • Once boiling, lower the heat and allow to simmer. At this point, use the wooden spoon to begin to break the fruit down. Continue to simmer for 45 minutes.
  • Whilst the fruit is simmering, remove the kernels from the plum stones using a nutcracker. Blanch the kernels in boiling water for a couple of minutes then drain. Now remove the pan from the heat and add 1kg sugar and the kernels. Please note that you don't have to use the kernels, but some think that it improves the flavour of the jam. However, if you don't want the hassle of removing them, or don't like the idea of leaving them in, then feel free to skip that part.
  • Stir the sugar through the fruit thoroughly and return to the heat, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Bring back to the boil, skimming the surface of any 'scum', until the jam reaches 105c or setting point. This is where a preserving thermometer comes in handy. If you don't have one, place a small amount of jam on a plate and allow to cool slightly. Once cool enough to touch, push the side of it gently with your finger. If the jam wrinkles, it has reached it's setting point and you can begin to jar it. If it doesn't, allow it to continue boiling for another minute or two and then try again.
  • Once you have reached setting point, you can jar the jam. Make sure you have sterilised any jars you are using. You can put them into the dishwasher, or wash with very hot soapy water then place in the oven, on a low/medium heat for 30 minutes, keeping them warm until you are potting the jam.
  • Once your jars are filled, place a wax disk on top of the mouth of the jar and seal tightly with the lid. Once these have cooled down you can add any label, lid cover or ribbon that you fancy. Make sure you date it. Store in a cool, dark place. 

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