SHF 22 – Preserving Summer with Plum Jam

It’s the middle of summer, and one of the plum trees in my backyard (the youngest one, the one that the squirrels can’t climb) was so heavy with fruit that the limbs are sagging. However, much of that weight seemed to be skin and pit, not flavor or flesh. So what to do with this bounty of free fruit? Find a jam recipe that doesn’t require pitting or peeling.

My neighbor had the recipe (from an old copy of Joy of Cooking, as the newest editions have dropped many of the preserve recipes) and the necessary experience (years of jam making) to make it happen. It was simple: ingredients of plums, sugar and water. And no special equipment was required.

We started by washing the fruit (4 kg) and sterilizing some jars (we used boiling water; placing the jars in a 250 F oven for 30 minutes is another approach). We then put the plums into a heavy sauce pan, poured in water until we could see the water through the top plum layer, then cooked them over medium heat until they had softened.

Cooking the plums

The next step was to press them through a strainer. For maximum pulp extraction, we chose the one below which had relatively large holes.

Removing the pulp and juice

Then, we added some of the cooking water to the plums to achieve the appropriate consistency, and combined four cups of this mixture and three cups of white sugar in a heavy sauce pan. We turned up the heat, and brought the mixture to a boil.

Cooking the mixture — heat level is a bit too high

The heat level in the picture above was a bit too high. We lowered the heat, and let the mixture bubble for a while, until it was “right.” Although it is possible to use a thermometer to determine when the mixture is ready, my thermometer was not the right shape to give us valid readings (and is also probably out of calibration). This is where experience (which my neighbor provided) can save the day. If you don’t have experience, The Joy of Cooking and other books offer tricks to identify when the mixture is right, generally involving spoons or plates and the freezer. And if you stop cooking too soon and the mixture doesn’t set, you will have an outstanding sauce for ice cream or pound cake (or perhaps even an ingredient for cocktails).

Cooking the mixture — heat level is correct

When the mixture was done cooking, we poured them into jars, screwed on the tops, and started to think about toast.

The backyard plums aren’t very exciting when fresh, but after being ‘jammed,’ their flavor was transformed into a complex confection with flavors of plum, rhubarb, strawberry, and cherry. Flavors I’ll enjoy for many months to come.

Indexed under Ingredients

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  1. Hi Marc,
    You are so lucky to have such a gorgeous and productive plum tree. The 2 months of cold and rain during the spring did a number on our plum trees here in Sacramento so for the first time in a decade we didn’t have enough to jam.
    Nice to meet you at the picnic. 🙂

  2. Mmm … I made a quick and dirty (well, ok, clean) plum preserves a few weeks ago. Our friends Jim and Matthew have an overprolific tree in their backyard … I think it’s time to raid it again.

  3. Hello Marc,
    Plums, plums and more plums…We have 2 plum trees one purple(Fiar) and one red (Cherry). I used the Cherry plums for the jam. Your plum jam recipe is wonderful!****
    ….note…the first step was the most difficult as I didn’t cook the plums quite enough to easily get the pulp free from the plums. It bacame easier as I got to the bottom of the pan where the pulp was almost hanging off the pits. So as not too loose any of the precious pulp I put the skins back in the hot water and boiled them for about 5 minutes then ran them through the strainer again. Perfect!
    I’m using the purple plums for dehydrating and making sugarplums. I found the sugarplum recipe on the web it’s a 16th century…fun! Thanks for your recipe.

    Cindy May,
    Park City, Montana

  4. I’m curious about something. Why do some recipes call for so much water that must then be reduced out of the jam?

    I followed a recipe much like this–2-4 cups water for about 3 lbs. fruit– and it took forever to get thick enough (though it was delicious.) Then I found an almost identical recipe that said to add only 1/2 Cup water–just enough to keep the plums from sticking before they start releasing their own juice.

    The small amt. of water means you must keep a very close/carefully stirring watch on them that first few minutes they’re softening, but it drastically cuts the total cooking time and is just as delicious.

    Is there some good reason for the extra water?

  5. anonymous #1 — I’m glad you had good results using my “recipe.”

    anonymous #2 — I don’t know why some jam recipes call for a lot of water that then needs to be boiled away. Longer cooking generally doesn’t improve the flavor. For jams that use unpeeled fruits, perhaps the long cooking will cause more of the naturally occurring pectins to be extracted, thus allowing a more effective “set.” But that’s just an wild guess.

  6. I tried this recipe out last night and it was wonderful! I did put in the plum pulp…
    My husband says it is his favorite jam so far (and I have made a ton of different kinds).
    THANK YOU so much for the recipe and step by step instructions.

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