I love making plum jam. It’s the simplest to make, and the most delicious.
Even though I’ve stone sheep field walls round my garden, I’m quite high up on a mountain where fruit doesn’t do too well, but a friend further down in the valley has a lovely plum tree in her garden. I don’t know what variety they are, but they are tart and very tasty. In previous years I’ve made a spiced chutney with them, which is delicious, but this year, after such a glorious summer, they were unusually sweet. So plum jam it was. I gathered the fruit with the help of Phoebe, who has a sweet tooth and hoovered up any that fell to the ground with great efficiency. (Never question a dog about what they do with the stones)
The recipe is wonderfully simple. Weigh out the plums, weigh out the same amount of sugar, add the juice of a lemon or so if desired (but no water), and away you go.
There are two methods of stoning plums. When I’ve made jam with big juicy Victoria plums I’ve stoned them before cooking. Because these ones are small with tight flesh even this year (they are almost a damson on years when the sun barely shines) I cooked them whole, then scooped out the stones (which conveniently rise to the surface) before adding the sugar.
The cooking method is also simple. I’ve got a thermometer, but for this jam it wasn’t necessary. It’s just a case of boiling, stirring tomake sure nothing burns. After a bit I experimented to see it had reached the setting point by putting a bit on a saucer and letting it cool. If it wrinkles when you push it, it’s done. I wiggle it around a bit as well (and taste it, of course). It was still a bit thin, so kept on for another ten minutes or so. This time I could see it had darkened and grown more translucent and I was pretty sure it was ready. Another test (and taste), and I let it cool a little before spooning it into sterilised jars, sealing them, and leaving it all to set.
There was, of course, a little over that didn’t fill a complete jar. So what was a girl to do? There’s nothing quite like fresh sourdough bread, brought straight back from the baker just down the hill and still warm, spread with real butter and a dollop of fresh, still slightly warm, plum jam. Actually, I cheat and put slightly less sugar when I’m making jam. Well, it’s not going to last long enough to go mouldy, and that tart edge to the taste is utterly and totally and zingingly delicious.
Bread and butter and jam for tea. The best.
Elin, my heroine in ‘We That Are Left’, turns her hand, as so many women did, to making jams and preserves from the produce of a kitchen garden during the Great War. By 1914 new imports of jars of jam and tins of fruit had made preserving seem old fashioned to many. But like in the Second World War, when the imports didn’t make it through, and food became expensive, there was a return to the old country ways. I used to make jams years ago, before that thing called life took over. Making them again has been a reminder that there’s nothing quite like capturing the goodness of a summer’s day and hiding it away to be rediscovered in the winter months.
So hurrah for plum jam!
Right, so I’ve got the gin for the next experiment. Those sloes had better be ready soon ….