Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cat Boy Plum Jam

Guest Post - Charles Turnipseed

Charles is a prolific and amazing cook but his current passion is his cat rescue work. Please take some time to read his blog, Purrfect Cat Rescue.

I like most jams and preserves but when I was growing up I especially liked apricot jam, and plum jam—my grandmother’s and King Kelly’s. I have fond memories of both: King Kelly was jelly-thick, pale burgundy, and had the light, fresh taste of the fruit; Grandma’s was somehow both dense and soft, the color of garnets, with a flavor somewhere between plums and prunes, all the result of her cooking process.

I say process, but it was less scientific than that sounds. She’d toss plums and sugar in a pot, place it on the burner of her Wedgewood stove that had a “flame tamer” and go out in the garden. She’d prune, she’d rake, she’d transplant—she’d forget she had something on the stove. Sometimes she burnt it, but more often than not it turned out great despite her not being a particularly skilled or confident cook. She didn’t “put things up,” so the jam was spooned into Cracker Barrel spreadable cheese containers and stored in the freezer.

Decades after Grandma made her last batch, I finally got around to making my own. I didn’t opt for her method since I knew I would never get it right anyway. I found a recipe in a cookbook inherited from another family member, a great aunt who was a skilled and confident cook. (Strictly speaking, despite her talents, she used a cornbread mix but I never told anyone until after she died since I knew it would ruin her reputation.)

The recipe is fairly simple, but it’s easier if you have a food mill since the fruit is first cooked—pits and all—then pureed, and cooked once more, this time with the sugar, to your desired thickness. Since I don’t have a food mill I push the stuff through a sieve and it takes forever; if you also lack a food mill, you can cut out the stones and save yourself some time. You can use any plums you like (I actually use about 6 varieties, buying some of each as they come into season then store in freezer bags until I have a couple gallons worth), but be sure to use some with black or deep-red skin so you’ll have a nicely colored jam.

Cat Boy Plum Jam
Adapted from “American Woman’s Cook Book” circa 1951

Makes approximately 4 half-pints of jam

1 quart plums, washed and cut in half, stones removed if you prefer
½ cup water
2 cups of sugar, approximately
Juice of a fresh lemon or two

Place the plums and water in a saucepan; bring to boil and lower to a simmer. Cook, covered, until the fruit—including the skin—is very tender. If you removed the stones, you can puree the mixture using a blender or food processor; otherwise press through a fine sieve or a food mill to form a thick pulpy liquid. You can stop here and refrigerate the mixture if you’d like to space your work out over a couple of days.

Measure the puree and return to the pot with about ½ cup sugar per cup of plums for a moderately sweet-tart jam, about 1/3 cup for a quite-tart jam. Cook over medium heat, stirring most of the time until the jam is glossy and shimmering and falls from a wooden spatula in thick drips. (You can use a candy thermometer and cook it to the jelly point if you want to, but I’m more of an eye-baller.) Add lemon juice and taste for a balance of sweet to acid, adding as much as you think it requires. (One year I incorrectly measured the sugar and ended up adding a full cup of lemon juice to fix things; oddly enough, the jam was especially good that year.)

Pour the jam into hot sterilized jars, seal, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes for 8- or 12-ounce jars. Alternately, cool and store in the refrigerator.