cherry plum jam

Last weekend was one of the most fun, love-filled weekends of my adult life. One of those weekends that you replay in your head over and over again. The kind of weekend that sort of changes something inside of you. After nearly a year of planning and plotting all the fine details, one of my very dearest friends, Trang and her fiancé, Kempton, tied the knot on July 3rd. I had the honor of being a part of their wedding party, along with five other gorgeous ladies, the groom’s three very handsome brothers and three closest buddies.

To say that the wedding was perfect feels almost like an understatement. It was an extremely beautiful celebration, not to mention an over-the-top party. My favorite part was the photo booth, the old school kind that prints four-frame, black and white strips. And the giant school bus that shuttled us to and from the venue was pretty fantastic too. Did I mention Jägerbomb hour? Yes, you read that correctly – there was an official Jägerbomb hour from 9-10pm, AND the bar ran out of Jägermeister, which is a pretty clear indication that people were serious about getting their Jägerbombs on. Which I think resulted in the bride and groom extending the party an extra hour since we were all having such a grand time. I couldn’t be more happy for these two lovebirds. The whole day was so memorable, and was made even more incredible by the fact that I was surrounded by some of the greatest loves of my life – my three best girlfriends, my sister, my Edwin (who did an amazing job on my hair that morning), and Evelyn, the coolest of the moms, who came all the way from Portland, OR to be there.

Because I had been actively helping the bride throughout the planning process, I had a feeling that things might get pretty hectic right before the wedding, so I spent the Sunday prior trying to relax the best way I know how – I cooked, rather I preserved. I decided it was time to make jam, even though I’ve never made jam in my life, nor did I have any canning equipment. But I did have plums. Trees full of little cherry plums that were just begging to be picked and turned into jam. I had to make it happen.

Cherry plums are tiny plums about the size of a giant gumball. They have a tart skin, but their flesh is sweet and juicy. There are actually two different trees in my backyard; one produces red plums, the other a yellow variety, which is a bit more mellow in flavor. For one reason or another, I’ve neglected these trees for years, and it wasn’t until I was tending to my tomatoes that I realized I had some serious fruit bearers on my hands. And since I am not the kind of girl to let good fruit go to waste, I spent a portion of the afternoon picking plums, on a ladder, sweating it out in my backyard. There is something very rewarding, maybe even calming, about picking and eating fruit while it is still warm from the sun. I felt very connected.

Finding a recipe, however, was more difficult than I had anticipated. I stopped by the library earlier that afternoon and picked up a few books on canning and preserving, hoping that I would find a recipe for plum jam. And there were plenty of recipes, but none of them called for cherry plums, so I improvised. I wanted to maintain the tartness of the plums instead of masking it with sweetness, so I purposely added less sugar than what most recipes suggested. The result was a nicely balanced, sweet-tart jam almost reminiscent of tamarind. I’ve been eating it on everything – on toast with peanut butter, on English muffins with butter. I even did a little savory/sweet experimenting and plan to have it with buttermilk biscuits and ham very soon. Now that I’m a jam maker, I can’t wait to play around with other fruit combinations. Guess what everyone is getting for Christmas this year!

Cherry Plum Jam

adapted very loosely from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine

makes 8 half-pint jars

16 cups cherry plums

4 cups sugar

1 cup water

special equipment:

boiling water canner with rack

8 half-pint canning jars with metal lids and rings

wide- mouth funnel

jar lifter

non-metallic spatula

Wash jars, lids and screw bands in hot, soapy water. Place a rack in the bottom of a boiling water canner, then place the jars on the rack. Cover the canner and bring the water to a simmer over medium heat. Keep jars hot until you are ready to use them. Set screw bands aside. Place lids in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Keep lids hot until you are ready to use them. Go here for a step-by-step guide to canning.

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine plums and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove pits from the fruit and transfer to a food mill or press pulp through a fine sieve. Transfer pulp back to saucepan and add sugar, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Boil, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens, about 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours.

The mixture is ready when it has reached the gel stage.  To test the gel, dip a cold metal spoon into the boiling jam. Lift the spoon and hold it horizontally and edge down so that the syrup runs off the edge. As the mixture cooks, the drops will become heavier and will drop off the spoon separately but two at a time. When the two drops join together and “sheet” off the spoon, the gel stage has been reached. If gel stage has been reached, skim off foam.

Working with one jar at a time, remove a jar from the canner, pouring hot water back into canner. Place funnel in jar. Ladle hot jam into hot jar, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles by running a non-metallic spatula down between the food and the inside of the jar two or three times. Adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot jam. With a clean damp cloth or paper towel, wipe jar rim and threads. Lift a hot lid from the water and place it on the jar, centering the sealing compound on the rim of the jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, lifting them without tilting them. Do not dry lids or jars at this point. You do not want to disturb the lids while the seal is being formed. Place the jars upright on a towel in a draft-free place and let cool, undisturbed, for 24 hours.

When jars have cooled for 24 hours, check lids for seal. With your fingers, press down on the center of each lid. Sealed lids will be concave and will show no movement when pressed. Jars that have not sealed properly must be refrigerated or reprocessed immediately. Jars that have good seals can be wiped down thoroughly with a damp cloth and stored in a cool, dark place. For best quality, use within 1 year.