Fancy a a slice of toastand jam? I have lots to share.
My Victoria plum tree is bent almost to the ground under the weight of its fruit this year. I knew it was likely - plum trees lave a good year/bad year cycle as far as I can work out. Last year it managed about 10 plums. This year I removed over half the fruit in July to protect the branches from snapping and my little tree still gave me 4 kilos of gloriously sweet plums yesterday. Twice as many are still on the tree to ripen.
|Don't they look good?|
I'm still fairly inexperienced at making jam. I refer to the wonderful River Cottage Preserves book written by Pam Corbin - aka Pam the Jam - for the essentials and even then I do make a hash of it sometimes. Rather spectacularly on several occasions. However, the lure of a line of jars filled with golden jam in a kitchen scented with rich sweet fruit brings me back to have another go every time.
The recipe is this:
1.5kg of plums
1.25kg granulated sugar
I doubled it because I have heaps and heaps of plums.
As you will have noticed if you've read my other blog posts, I like Thinking Things Through and I like an easy option if there is one. There are lots of approaches to jam making and this is the one that works well for me.
Sterilising the jars - If I've room in the dishwasher I stick all my jars and lids in, run a hot wash cycle as I start the jam and leave the dishy door shut until I'm ready to fill the jars. If I haven't the room I just wash them as hand hot as i can stand and pop them on the middle shelf of the oven, and turn the oven on low. Boiling them seems a right flipping pain.
Setting point - I second, third and forth guess myself on setting point. To that end, I take a belt-and-braces approach. I stick 3 or 4 saucers in the freezer as I get ready to start and I use my digital thermometer as well. The great Pam says setting point of jam is 104 degrees C.
Pam also says you should only wash the fruit if absolutely necessary and if you do you must dry it thoroughly. My fruit are from my trees, unsprayed with anything, so I just keep a very slightly damp cloth to hand if i need to wipe any bits off. Or wipe it on my apron (scruffy but true.)
|Weighing as I go|
I set up all my stuff first - massive pan sitting on my digital scales, sack of fruit and cutting board in front of me, bowl for the plum stones and any manky bits to my right.
First job - cut the plums in half and remove the stone. The easiest way is to cut along that line on the plum - I think of it as the plum's Greenwich Meridian or butt crack, depending on my mood - and up again the other side, then twist the two plum halves apart. Cut any manky bits off and pop the plum halves in the pan.
Incidentally, Pam tells us to use a nutcracker to open some plum stones to remove the kernels and simmer them with the plums for a lovely hint of almond. I don't own a nutcracker and can't be bothered anyway. I love plum jam as it is.
The other advice Pam offers is to use slightly under ripe fruit for jam making.
Two years ago we had to give our middle child a 4 plum rule. They are so soft, plump and delicious, just hanging there at easy picking height for a child and the temptation was too much for him. As he played in the garden one day he helped himself to loads of them and had one hell of a stomach ache as a result. He stuck to the 4 plum limit after that. I was struggling to stick to that rule myself as I picked out the plums from the harvest that were too ripe for jam making. It turns out they are just exactly ripe enough for scoffing.
Is it a bit late to mention that you shouldn't make plum jam when you have a fancy event to go to that night? Picking all those plum stones out tends to stain your fingers a delightful nicotine yellow which can undermine your wholesome homestead-y vibe and kill any glamour thing off too. Unless you are a chain smoker, I guess. Then it wouldn't make much difference.
|What 3kg of plums looks like|
Anyway, back to business. I weighed out 3kg of stoned fruit, added some water and put it on the stove to boil. This time (unlike the previous year) I remembered not to add the sugar until the plums were well cooked. It took about 25 minutes of simmering. Jam making wisdom decrees that if you add the sugar at the start the fruit skins won't soften. I haven't found it bothers me particularly, but what the heck.
By the way, you don't have to remove the skins of the plums unless they really bother you. Pam doesn't and I no longer do. It makes the whole thing much easier. Also, just skimming along with a slotted spoon as the skins rise to the surface can get rid of lots of them if you aren't too fastidious about the odd skin.
I actually kind of like them. They are just part of the texture of the jam, and aren't tough or chewy in the slightest.
Once the fruit is totally cooked I added the sugar. Victoria plums are pretty sweet, so I don't match the fruit weight quite equally. I added 2.5kg of granulated sugar to the pan.
Yes, you read that correctly. Two and a half kilos. Of sugar. Five and a half pounds. What sort of insane foodstuff needs that much sugar?
Well, jam, obviously. Because it is the high sugar content that preserves the fruit so I can have this September's plums on my toast next spring. Logically I know that but it still feels an insane amount to weigh out. It filled 2 of my big pasta bowls.
|Heaps of sugar|
Books and online recipes usually tell me my jam will reach setting point in 10 to 12 minutes. I don't think it has ever happened in less than 20. I don't stir it (it cools the jam slightly and delays setting) and I *think* I do everything they suggest, but it still takes longer than they tell me. Possibly it's because I have MASSES of plums and scale up the recipes.
Anyway, once my jam is boiling like billy-o and gets a little darker in colour I pop my sugar thermometer in. It usually romps up to 102 degrees and then sits there for ages. I try again every few minutes. By around 103 degrees I grab one of those saucers I put in the freezer and plop a tiny bit of jam on it. after a couple of minutes I push it with my finger to see if the jam wrinkles up ahead of my finger or not. If not (and the first few goes are always a 'not' in my experience) I get to scoff the yummy sloppy jam bit and try again with another cold saucer in a few minutes.
Once I was fairly happy the jam had reached setting point I turned off the heat. I took the still-warm jars and lids from the dishwasher and put them on the counter ready to be filled. I don't have a jam funnel which would make filling the jars nice and easy. And I only remember this when I am in full jam-making flow. Dolt.
Anyway, I put my jars on sheets of the reusable baking parchment I use for lining cake tins and baking trays. It makes clearing up my jam spillage much easier. Had my kitchen not been very warm - and consequently my counter top - I would have put folded tea towels under the parchment. hot jam jars and cold stone counters can result in the glass breaking. Not good.
I filled the jars to very near the absolute top and put the lids on. As the jam cools and contracts it will create a vacuum seal. You can tell that it's worked by looking at the little dimple on the jar lid. If it is concave the seal is fine. If you can push that dimple down and it pops up convex again, the jar isn't sealed. You can just keep that jar in the fridge and use it up quickly or you can heat the jam up again, sterilise the jar again and have another go.
I got 13 jars of jam from my 3kg (stoned weight) of plums. I expect about 5 or 6 will get given away. The rest will go on the top shelf of my cupboard, waiting to bring late summer happiness to months ahead.
PS - When I was a kid I had a hell of a time remembering which was concave and which was convex. The only way I kept it straight was this - concave is caved in. Convex is vexed, and is sticking its tongue out at you. I'm educational gold, me. You're welcome.