I did a double take at the farmer’s market this weekend– were those this year’s apples? And grapes- already?!? If labor day and the start of school were not enough to let me know summer is on its way out, those apples sure were. I was instantly overcome with the urge stuff myself with stone fruit as quickly as possible. After my panic subsided, I decided that the more rational approach was to do a little bit of canning. Preserving is a fundamental, old-school way to keep a thrifty kitchen. Buy fruits and vegetables when they are in peak season, and they will be cheaper and tastier. And if you preserve them, then you can spread this bounty out throughout the year. Right now stone fruits, tomatoes and peppers are still in peak season, and there seem to be enough not-too-hot days that boiling a big old pot of water doesn’t seem like an entirely foolish idea. So two big bags of plums are finding their way into jars this week– hopefully enough to keep my fruit cravings at bay through much of the winter.
For this jam, I first roasted the red plums which concentrates their flavor and adds a pleasant note of caramelized richness. It also allows the beautiful red pigment and tartness of the skin to seep into the sweet yellow flesh of the plum. Then I boiled the resulting juice together with the peels (which now slip off the fruit easily) and some fresh thyme to round out the flavor. I also specify low-sugar pectin– regular pectin requires specific quantities of sugar and citric acid to set up. I don’t like my jams to be too sweet, so unless I am making a very tart preserve (see my blood orange marmalade using natural pectin in the citrus peels), I typically like to use a low-sugar pectin. Low-sugar pectin uses a salt to activate the gelling in the pectin– so essentially, you can cheat on the sugar concentration. One last note: if you are looking to do any summer preserving, I wholeheartedly recommend the USDA’s guide to canning and preserving– it is comprehensive, readable and practical (not what I usually expect to find in a government document). And it’s free! So happy canning, and make the most of these last few days of summer.
5 lb. Red Plums
a large bunch of fresh Thyme
½ c. sugar
1½ c-2 c. sugar
5½t. low-sugar pectin
calcium water (prepare as directed on pectin package)
2 qts. jam
Preheat your oven to 425°F. Halve the plums and place them pit side up on a baking sheet. (If the pits are difficult to remove, you can remove them later). Tuck sprigs of thyme into the fruit and sprinkle with ¼c. sugar. Roast for 25 minutes, until the fruit is soft and just lightly caramelized. Leave out until the fruit is cool enough to handle.
Wash and rinse the jars and lids you’ll be preserving in. Place the jars in a stock pot with a small grate on the bottom. Pour hot water from the tap over the jars and let them sit for a few minutes to slowly warm up. Place the stockpot over high heat. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn heat off and leave jars to sit in the hot water.
Scoop pits out of plums and discard. Separate the plums from the skins, placing the skins, thyme and the plum syrup in a saucepan and the fruit in a separate bowl or stock pot. The plum flesh will have turned a beautiful ruby color. You should have about 5c. of plum flesh and 4 c. of combined juice and skin.
Zest the two lemons. Add the lemon zest to the saucepan with the plum skins and juice. You can taste the juice and decide if you want a more pronounced thyme flavor. If you do, then add in a few thyme sprigs to the saucepan as well. Bring to a boil. Let mixture boil down to 2 c. Stir frequently to prevent sticking on the bottom of the pot. Strain and add to the reserved plum flesh.
Cook Jam with Thickeners:
Place jam in a large stockpot. Juice lemons. Add lemon juice and 1c. sugar to the jam and place over high heat. Add calcium water. Mix pectin with ½c. sugar. Once the jam has come to a boil, slowly stir in the pectin to the jam mixture until it is thoroughly dissolved.
Remove jars from the hot water and place on a clean dishcloth. Fill with hot jam to ½” from the top of the jar. Place jars on lids and tighten. Place filled jars back in the stockpot and fill with hot water. Bring the stockpot to a boil and process jars for a full ten minutes. Carefully remove jars and set on a clean dishcloth to dry. Once the jars have cooled check to see that they have fully sealed.
Sealed jars will keep for a year or more. Once the jar has been opened it will keep, refrigerated, for three weeks.