Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Damson Plums

This morning I went to pick up the Dutch Valley order. A half ton of spelt berries, wheat berries, organic raisins, almonds and lots of other goodies for the bakery. We did the milking. The boys and girls unloaded the goods off the truck in case of rain. We picked the plums.

After taking care of town chores with Kathryn and Nora (that involved a delightful lunch), we began the task of preparing the plums.

After a quick foray into web-land, I found a satisfactory method of preparing brandied plums. Here's what I found:

1 quart plums, pierced at the stem end with a fork
2 cups sugar
brandy to cover it all up

We placed the plums in a gallon jar, poured in the right amount of sugar and then added the brandy. You could use vodka, but I really don't like vodka at all. The online recipe suggested twirling the jar around occasionally to stir up the sugar. I am imagining Christmas gifts and visions of sugar plums, I mean brandied plums, and happy chats in front of the fireplace with snow on the ground.

After completing that task, the kids pulled homemade pizza crusts out of the freezer to make their supper and Kathryn and I began to cook down the plums to make the jam. For that I need no internet. I have the wonderful old-fashioned cookbook written back in the 20's or 30's.

Here's the basics:
pit the plums.
per cup of fruit, add 2/3 cup of sugar

Bring to a boil and boil and stir and stir and boil until the jam sheets on the spoon. Use the highest heat you have. DO NOT WALK AWAY FROM THIS PROJECT. Not even for a few seconds. I keep a little saucer by the pot, and as the jam thickens, I spoon a few drops to see if it thickens.

It is easier to make jam in little batches, say, 4 cups of fruit at a time. 8 cups of fruit works, but takes a lot longer to thicken up.

After the jam is nice and thick, pour into sterilized jars, place on lids or pour layers of paraffin wax to seal.

Damson plums are amazing. Ripe on the tree, the blue fruits are a work of art. Placed in the galvanized bucket, with an occasional leaf for contrast, it looked like a work of art in Provence.

Don't try to eat these plums off the tree. Sour. Sour doesn't even begin to express the taste. But once they begin to cook down, a perfume fills the air. Perfume that makes me think of the essence of the perfect tea party, buttered toast and a pretty pot full of ruby goodness to go with the most lovely of china tea cups, billowing white curtains and frilly dresses, bouquets of roses and a friend.

I don't really wear frilly dresses and have no white curtains, but that is the smell for me.

The purpley blue fruit transforms into a crimson puree, then, as the sugar and fruit begin to boil, become a ruby bubbling mass, like Dorothy's red slippers.


Kathryn and I sweated and stirred, then stirred and sweated. We talked about work. About friends. About sad things and funny. About God in the middle of it all. We tasted and stirred and checked for the moment when the jam jammed.

I planned to go to bed at 8pm, but the jam didn't jam until 9. All of a sudden the syrup coagulated, the stirring stopped and we poured the ruby gold into sterilized jars, sealed them, put on labels and imagined the joy that treasure would bring us during the winter months. I was too tired to finish, so put some of the pitted puree into the freezer to finish another time, when another friend could come over to chat and stir and sweat with me.

I hope you can find someone with a damson tree. Or maybe you should plant one yourself. What a treasure. If not damson, please try to make some jam at some point in your life. You might become a better person. At least the people who get to share toast with you will definitely think so.


Chris said...

Congratulations! on shearing your sheep! And on making it out of bed the next day and making jam! Clippers do need cleaning between sheep. There's a cleaning product for clippers; I get it at Sally's Beauty Supply. Cleaning and oiling go a long way but eventually the blade has to be sharpened or replaced. So glad you have such wonderful friends to help.

Polly said...

This is such a useful post for me! I love making jam, but have never made it with plums. My dad and stepmother just moved into a little cottage in the mountains, and have a plum tree just outside the kitchen, off of their little deck. When I was visiting 2 weeks ago, my father told my stepmother to try one of the plums, as it was small and obviously ripe. She did, and said it was too bitter. Perhaps they are damson? I'm going to try to head back down there soon and do some collecting, to see if I can salvage them and make something luscious!

Greener Pastures--A City Girl Goes Country said...

I recently bought plum jam from someone selling it at the Roanoke Farmer's Market. It is my favorite! I have a big "bush" alongside my driveway that has little tiny plums on it, about the size of large marbles. I tried one. They were sweet! But I wouldn't know how to make jam. I don't know how to can. Plus I have one of those glass smooth-top stoves that you're not supposed to can on. So I'm out of luck.

Anonymous said...

Reading this reminded me of the time I was visiting you guys in New Jersey and you and I slipped away to that sweet,quaint little hotel somewhere.I don't remember where it was but,I do remember us having tea with toast and lemon curd.You told me,like some wise, gourmet sage,that "there is indeed nothing better in the world than unbuttered toast with lemon curd and a nice cup of tea,of course." Do you remember? Where was this place,it was so pretty?I want to have tea and plummy jam with you ! I miss you so much reading these your little sister,Christine