I be Jamming!
Over on the Green Phone Booth is my post reviewing the copy of The Art of Preserving the publisher sent me…check it out, and then go get the book, because it’s a good one! Functional and fun, the kind of thing that sort of makes one feel like one dares give this jam-making business a try without being too intimidating.
So, just to see what it was all about, I got my new-to-me hot water canner and my cookbook and 3 lbs of plums and made a batch of Plum-Lavender Jam.
I didn’t go in totally cold—we had a few overripe plums a couple of days ago, and I sort of did a very casual tiny batch first, only just under half a pint, to see how it worked and whether I could pull this off. As I indicated on the Booth, that jar was gone within 24 hours, eaten with a spoon. I also hadn’t let it jell quite enough, so it was more of a preserves-y consistency, but it was still delicious. And it gave me courage to try the Real Deal.
So I got my plums: I honestly wasn’t prepared to spring for the organic ones, and I’d read on one of the Dirty Dozen sites that while imported plums come in at number 18 in terms of pesticide residue, the ones grown in the U.S. Only come in at 34, which is better. So I washed the skins good (using soap! Water doesn’t get the residue off; otherwise, every time it rains, farmers would lose the dubious protection the nasty toxic chemicals give) and rinsed them, cut and pitted and quartered the plums.
Aside: Now, I know it’s theoretically possible to get a plum pit out without wasting any fruit. I’m just not good at it. However, I took a different approach: after getting most of the plum off the pits, I dropped the pits into a jar and then poured brandy over them. After letting them sit for a couple of weeks, I will probably have some really lovely plum-infused brandy. Which I might or might not share with my husband.
I put the plums in a big metal bowl, poured what seemed like an obscene amount of sugar over them (II think it was 3 cups for 3 lbs of fruit, necessary for the jam-making process–it’s all in the chemistry) and let them sit in the fridge for what amounted to two days, because the following evening when theoretically I would have made the jam I ended up exhausted and just couldn’t make it happen. By then, instead of a bowl of cut up plums with an obscene amount of sugar, I had something that looked sort of like plum soup. (And which tasted really delicious, by the way…)
Then came the hot steamy part—I put the canner on to boil that water, which took forever, and put the plums on another burner (with the half cup of lemon juice suggested in the recipe, I presume to increase the fruit’s acid content, help the pectin do its thing, and keep us from getting botulism) to cook them down to lovely Jamminess. It took a helluva lot longer than the 10 minutes suggested in the recipe, more like 30, but that could be because I didn’t have the right heat going or the extra night between cutting up the plums and jamming them caused more liquid to come out of them. I also put a teaspoon of dried lavender flowers in a little muslin bag almost the whole time I boiled them, as the recipe suggested…During all this I boiled my jars and lids too. I then took them out of the water…one of the things I didn’t get about the recipe book was that it said the jam had to go into dry jars, but it also said to leave the jars in the boiling water till it’s time to put the jam in. I’m like, okay, which do you want? So I compromised; they were still plenty warm when I put the jam in.
Eventually my jam got all syrupy and boily, passed the “wrinkle test” (when you put it on a plate and chill it for a couple of minutes, and if you poke it it wrinkles on top), and got 5 half pint jars (one less than the recipe said I should get) of jam out of it. This time, by 24 hours later, it had set up beautifully and was exactly the consistency jam is supposed to have. And that satisfying little “ping!” I heard when I took the jars out of the boiling water after their 10 minutes were up was very satisfying. The seals all look good. (If you want to know more about how to can, and don’t have an awesome cookbook, check out PickYourOwn.org–they have a boatload of good info.)
I’m working through this stuff with a spoon too, though I may take my mom a jar when we go to visit her.
So, that’s my first jam-making adventure! It was much easier than I thought it would be, and aw man the end result is so much tastier than anything I’ve gotten in a store. Just…wow.