August 24, 2010

Plum Crazy: Rich and Delicious Plum Jam

My mother was the queen of preserving. It followed along with her inbred philosophy of using everything and wasting nothing, born from a childhood of barely modest means and hard work. We rarely bought canned anything: tomato sauce came from a Mason jar in the basement, pickles were at the ready, plum jam a year-round staple.

That plum jam seems to play in my memory the most. Rich, gooey and delicious, we used it for everything from thick buttered pieces of Italian bread to stuffing for dessert gnocchi. After a recent attempt at making pierogis, I was inspired to finally try my own version of plum jam, taking advantage of in-season Italian plums. The results were exactly right: as sticky sweet and satisfying as I remember.

Italian Plum Jam
yields 5-6 cups

Without a recipe to follow, I did a quick search online and found that most plum jams are nothing more than plums, sugar and pectin. While I had the jars, the plums and the sugar, I hadn't thought about buying pectin, so this version doesn't use any. This recipe from Taste Hungary provided the inspiration.

Approx 4 lb Italian plums*
8 oz sugar (by weight)
Juice of one lemon
1 cup water (optional)

* For the amount of effort it takes to make the jam, the next time around I'll be using lots more plums and adjusting the sugar accordingly. Stay tuned for details!

Equipment you'll need:

Large heavy non-reactive stockpot
Canning pot or oversized stockpot
Mason jars (4 oz or 8 oz size)
New lids and screwtops
Canning tongs
Canning funnel
Tools of the trade

1. Wash, half and pit the plums. Place in a large, heavy non-reactive stockpot (my Le Creuset was perfect), add the sugar, water if using and the lemon juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly to avoid sticking.

2. While the plums are cooking, prepare the Mason jars. Wash the jars and lids in warm soapy water and rinse thoroughly. In a large canning pot (or regular oversized stockpot), place the clean jars, submerge in water and bring to a simmering boil until ready to use.

3. The jam is ready when the plums are completely soft and the liquid has become very thick and syrupy. It took about 3 hours for my 4 lb of plums; probably less time would be required if I hadn't added the water.

Almost ready!

4. To test if the jam is ready to can, place a small saucer in the freezer. When the jam seems to be the right consistency, place a spoonful on the plate and put back in the freezer for one minute. Run your finger through the jam on the plate: if the jam runs together, it's not ready; if the funnel you've created with your finger remains separate, the jam is ready to can.


5. To can, first prepare the jars. Using the tongs, carefully lift and empty each jar of water, pouring the water back in the stockpot (keep the water simmering, replenishing if needed to ensure that the jars will be completely covered by one inch when placed back in the pot). Place on a clean tea towel.

6. When all of the jars are ready, you're ready to can! Place the funnel in a jar and carefully ladle the hot jam in, being careful to leave a ½" at the top. Wipe any excess jam off the top of the jar, place a lid on the jar, and put a metal band (threaded lid) on, turning so that the band is on securely but not too snugly.

7. Using the tongs, carefully place the filled jars back in the water, and bring to a boil. Be sure that the water is a generous 1 inch above the jars. Boil gently for 10 minutes, remove the jars with the tongs and place on the tea towel. Let the jam cool for 12 hours before storing. Your jam jars will "pop" as they are cooling: this is a good thing! It means the jar is properly sealed. Once the jars are cooled, you can test the seals in the following ways (source: - see link below):

"Option 1: Press the middle of the lid with a finger or thumb. If the lid springs up when you release your finger, the lid is unsealed.

Option 2: Tap the lid with the bottom of a teaspoon. A clear ringing sound means a good seal. If it makes a dull sound, the lid is not sealed. If food is in contact with the underside of the lid, it will also cause a dull sound (that is not a problem or a sign of spoilage). If the jar is sealed correctly, it will make a ringing, high-pitched sound.

Option 3: Hold the jar at eye level and look across the lid. The lid should be concave (curved down slightly in the center). If center of the lid is either flat or bulging, it may not be sealed."
For more great tips and a detailed FAQ on home canning, see the Pick Your Own web site.

Happy canning!