Thursday, July 10, 2014

Plum harvest and perfect jam








Our plum trees were unbelievably prolific this year. They were practically groaning with the weight of all the fruit they had produced. We decided there was too much to let it go to waste, even though the plums are mostly very tart and they remain quite small, about the size of a large Bing cherry. I've written about the plum trees before, for my March contribution to the Color Collaborative series. These trees are a source of pride for us, as they are pretty and distinctive. Every year, there are at least a few plums by June, but this year the trees went into overdrive: there were hundreds of plums in each of the trees and they were making a huge mess on the sidewalk below.

We have lofty ideas related to self-sufficiency, most of which are unrealistic for people living in the city. But every little bit matters, we think. We treat the chickens like pets to some degree but we wanted them primarily for eggs and to help with composting and fertilizing in the yard. We try to use as many apples from our tree as we can. This year, with so many plums available, it seemed like a good idea to use them too. The whole family got to work picking plums on a recent weekend morning. Even the GB was up on a ladder, filling her bowl with plums. All four of us worked for a few hours. In total, we picked about seven pounds of plums! We picked what we could reach and left the rest for the birds.

So what do you do with seven pounds of tiny, tart plums? You start pitting them and you don't stop for about three days and nights. The Bear and I worked together on the pitting, doing a pound or two at a time. It was messy work and we needed to stop and clean up fairly often. There isn't much fruit in these plums, so it's worth saving as much juice as possible. We realized that a cherry-pitter might have been useful, but between the two of us, we got the job done with sharp paring knives and a lot of patience. The Bear had a plan for some of them; he wanted to make fruit leather in our dehydrator. I wanted to try making jam with a portion of them, eager to improve this skill.


I did some research and found that people have traditionally paired plums with apples for jam, because the combination tastes good and contains lots of pectin. I would have loved to use my own apples but they aren't ripe yet. It would be so nice to have my apples and my plums ready to use at the same time, but apples are not expensive. There were many recipes online for this type of jam and all were roughly the same. My proportions are sort of an average of several good recipes I came across. I also consulted my mother-in-law, jam-maker extraordinaire, for advice on the cooking and canning processes. I did everything by the book this time, from sterilization to processing. No internet shortcuts here, just traditional, old-fashioned canning methods. I really wanted to get it right.

Plum-Apple Jam

2.5 lbs. plums, pitted and chopped
2 lbs. cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped (I used Granny Smith apples)
2.5 cups water
6 cups granulated sugar

Place fruit and water in a large pot over medium heat, bring to a simmer. Cook until fruit is softened, about 15 minutes.

Turn heat to low and add sugar, stir until dissolved.

Heat until boiling. Boil for about 12 minutes.

Remove from heat and begin testing jam using a chilled plate. Put the plate in the freezer for a couple of minutes before testing. If jam is ready, it will separate when you pull your finger through it and will look crinkly ahead of your finger. If it's not ready, boil it again for a couple of minutes at a time and keep testing.

Fill warm, sterilized jars with jam and screw lids on. Process jars. (I sterilized and processed my jars according to official USDA recommendations).


I ended up with five half-pint jars, and two 12-ounce jars. It wasn't really about saving money, but I can't help thinking about how much this quantity of jam would cost in the store, even for a generic brand, which is what I typically buy. I spent a couple of dollars on apples, and the sugar was worth a dollar or two as well, but the plums were free. And plum-apple jam is sort of exotic; I can't find that flavor in the grocery store.


We started eating my jam the next day. It's really delicious. See how it spread? It's real jam, thick and properly set. No runny, wet stuff this time. My kids love it. My husband came into the house right after I'd filled the jars and he told me the kitchen smelled "like childhood" to him. What a lovely compliment. Look at me go.

I'm proud of my jam. I've been feeling a little off lately, a little blah, for lack of a more articulate way to describe it. Summer is plodding along; we're more than halfway through the break already. Some days are better than others. We're keeping busy with library events, swimming lessons and little projects at home. I have been crocheting every day, while we listen to our audiobooks; I'm almost finished with the flowery circles, which is kind of amazing. I've been reading a lot too, a wide variety of literature including novels, which I'd strayed from a bit lately. I've been making more time for friends, a part of my life I'd wanted to improve for awhile. I'm okay. I needed the jam success, though. It felt really good.


In addition to jam, there's a lot of fruit leather. I've even been thinking about throwing a fruit-leather party. Everyone is invited. You've never seen so much fruit leather in your entire life.

49 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your wonderful jam, it looks delicious, and much better than shop bought stuff. It must be such a good feeling to grow your own fruit and make something that everyone enjoys. I hope you are feeling less blah soon xx

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  2. Yum! It looks delicious and I love its color. I didn't know what fruit leather was, sounds great!

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  3. Mmmm how delicious! I love plum jam, it has such a special flavour and fragrance....especially home made......well done on your wonderful jam making, Jennifer!
    Helen xox

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  4. Great looking jam, I am so jealous I had wanted to make jam this week with the strawberries but my trio 2 of the furry kind got there first. Well done you, have a great weekend.

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  5. Making your own jam is a wonderful thing to do, I find it so therapeutic. I compare mine to the more luxury organic varieties of commercial jam, in price that is! I'm hoping there are enough plums on my tree for my own plum jam, there might be for a pot or two. Your jam looks fabulous, well done!

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  6. This is the first time I've come across fruit leather. What do you do.. snack on it?

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    1. Hi Jessica, yes, the fruit leather is just a dried fruit snack. It's made by spreading pureed fruit on a tray inside the dehydrator (it can also be made in a slow oven). When it's dried, it becomes a solid layer of fruit which can be cut into pieces and eaten. It's good, but tough to chew. The flavor in the fruit becomes very concentrated, so in this case it's quite tart.

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  7. Am reminded of the wartime song 'pinch all my ham and my plum and apple jam but please leave my butter alone'. Looks delicious Jennifer.

    You might be interested to know that in the UK we don't do any of that water bath processing you do. It just goes straight into a sterilised pot. I have crab apple jelly on my shelf made this way that is 3 years old and still in perfect condition. I've often wondered why we do things differently.

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  8. This looks fantastic! Not only did your plum jam bring back childhood memories of climbing a plum tree in my grandfather's backyard and eating the delicious fruits to no end but you've inspired me to give jam making another go! I made strawberry jam a while ago which turned out like syrup :( Total shot my first time experience to pieces. Love the look of the fruit leather! Thanks for the recipe xxx

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  9. The jam is beautiful. To me the very best part of the jam making process, even better than eating it, is when the jars come out of the canner and sit on the kitchen counter to be admired. Well done!

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  10. I remember my mother making plum jelly from a tree on our drive. it was a self sown tree, it practically grew out of a crack in the wall between our house and the neighbours. The plums were so sour, no good for anything else but made delicious jelly. We chopped a bucket full roughly and boiled everything stones included for an hour then heaved the whole mixture into a jelly bag and let it filter over night. The next day for every pint of juice we added a pound of sugar and boiled till setting point was reached (testing as you do). It was still a little sour and that was the way we liked it. I loved it on toast and even ate it on Lamb as a substitute for red currant jelly. I don't have a plum tree but when we have a good enough summer and our grapes ripen I make grape jelly in the same way.

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  11. yum! and who doesn't love fruit leather?

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  12. I've never heard of fruit leather - what is it? Do you eat it?

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  13. Looks lovely, Jennifer, you are right to be proud. That toast and jam make me want to tuck right in. And the photos of your kids picking plums are wonderful.

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  14. Here somebody else who has never heard of fruit leather - but it sounds yummy ! Going to try it, by using my oven at low temperature !

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  15. I am so impressed! It does sound quite exotic and it looks so pretty. I bet that fruit leather is good too. Good job!

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  16. Jennifer, it looks very delicious. I absolutely love toast with jam. I'm sure you all enjoyed it very much. :) I've also been a bit blah lately. I'm not sure if it's the heat or pregnancy pains. Or maybe even both combined!

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  17. Hey Jennifer,
    I have only made jam for a couple of years, but I really enjoy it too. We have an abundance of plums ripening on our tree this year. I hope to make jam with them (if the snails don't get to them first). I'm glad that yours turned out so well. I'm glad that it gave you a happy kick, to beat the blahs away a little perhaps? As for the fruit leather. That looks delicious. It reminds me of something me friend Katie used to bring into school. Her Dad was a pilot who did the transatlantic gig to America, and he used to bring it back. I wonder if it is the same sort of thing?
    Oh and I made your peach smoothie pops. yum. I ate most of them ;)
    Leanne xx

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  18. me again. I just wanted to add that the fabric in your photographs is so pretty.
    L xx

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  19. Hi Jennifer - well the new thing I learnt today was .... fruit leather. I have never seen or even heard of it before ! And your jam looks so delicious - I like the sound of the combination of the plums and apples.
    Kate x

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  20. What a harvest of plums and what delicious looking jam too! :)
    V x

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  21. I love everything about this story - how resourceful you and your family are, how you connected with and carry on age-old traditions in the canning process, how perfect and delicious the jam came out. I hear you on being a little bit off lately, and how simply good a small, bright, sweet success can be to stand out from all the blah. (Though I wouldn't call this small by any means - seven pounds of plums, wow!)

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  22. Well done for making your plum jam. I'm going to a local fruit farm for strawberries and raspberries next week. I'm looking forward to eating the jam but the cleaning of the berries is not one of my favourite things to do. Oh well, if I want home-made jam, I need to clean the berries! :o)

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  23. Jam making is so satisfying, isn't it? I love making all kinds of jams and jellies (in fact, I have a post scheduled on the topic for next week, when I am away. Your plums look very different from mine but I would love to try them. I have never heard of fruit leather but it sounds like a perfect snack. Must make some. x

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  24. I'll be there it looks delish! So does your jam, great that the little bears could join in on the fun, you are teaching them so much about where food comes from.
    Meredith

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  25. You've done well to use your plum harvest. I've got more gooseberries and blackcurrants than I know what to do with at the moment. I'm wishing I had a dehydrator. The jam looks fabulous, well done you. I've been feeling a little off too recently. Struggling to cope with everything a bit. Let's hope it all passes soon. I hope you guys all have a good weekend Jennifer. CJ xx

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  26. What a wonderful yield and delicious harvest !

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  27. I'm so impressed with your apple/plum jam! We used to have an ornamental plum tree like yours and I remember seeing the little plums. Our plum tree was lost but I can't remember why or how. But we do have some Italian plum trees - I need to go check to see if it has fruit on it. Gorgeous fruit leather.. is it tart? ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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  28. Looks wonderful! I love making jam. I have been having a good run lately after so many disasters. So pleased I kept going. The chilled plate to test was a great help for me to check if it's ready. I'm looking forward to our fruit tree season and to getting my jam on again. P.S. please sign me up for your fruit leather party! xo

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  29. HI Jen, your so lucky to have your own plum trees. Plums are my favourite fruit at the moment. I do not know if its pregnancy related as I never much cared for them before, but I could eat them all day long. I think I would love the jam you made. and I always wanted to make fruit leather but never got around to it x

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  30. Ha! I'm coming to that fruit leather party pal! Just look at the size of it!! Your jam looks amazing!!!!! And the picture of your sweetie harvesting the plums is so wonderful! I am so with you on trying as much as possible to be self sufficient even if we are in the city. A job well done to you! And I am so glad you are getting so much crocheting done! Here is to rocking it out with the jam!!! My grandmother used to make plum jam so this post really tugged at my heart! And as for the blahs.....I went through a period of that too. Mine lasted for a month or 2 this past spring. In some ways I embraced it as I felt that maybe that is just where I was at at that time. Sending you an energy hug! A lovely weekend to you friend! Nicole xoxo

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  31. Well done, Jennifer! May I come to your fruit leather party? This is the first year that we have experimented with cherries from our wild cherry tree. The cherries are the size of big blueberries, but mostly pit. However, this year they tasted good so my youngest daughter and her friend pitted some cherries and added some blueberries and made a crisp with them...a little soupy but yummy :)

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  32. Oh Jennifer, the colour is just amazing....bet the taste was too! :) x

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  33. Delicious!! Plum jam is just about my favourite jam, and probably because as you say you cannot just go to a store and buy it!! xx

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  34. Oooh, yummy! I love plums, in all forms, and your jam and fruit leather looks delicious! I am happy to hear that you are having a good summer, loving all of your lovely posts :) Elle

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  35. So yummy! Some of my happiest childhood memories are of being in the kitchen with my grandma and one of the things we used to make was plum jam. This post brought back some lovely memories for me :)

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  36. Homemade jam is the best! I can eat it straight out of the jar! Your fruit leather looks so good, bet it's pretty tasty. It's the simple things in life that are fun and make us happy. Have a good one!

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  37. You have been busy! Our plums arent usually ready to harvest over here in UK for a couple more months. I love Victoria Plums, they are my favourites.

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  38. That is a beautiful compliment to give someone, and there really is nothing like a homemade success to lift your spirits. Your jam looks delicious, enjoy every little bite, x

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  39. How wonderful to have all that fruit in your front garden! You've made the most of it, you'll be able to get these jars of jam out for months and enjoy the fruits of your labour. I've been feeling blah too. And I've been making jam. See, we're blogging TWINS!! xx

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  40. Award-winning jam there, M'lady! Well done. A little tip when your jam-making, especially for fruits with less pectin and you don't want to add more sugar to get to setting point, is to add either half a lemon or lime to the boil. It really helps. Also, a knob of butter added when your jam starts coming to a rolling boil, cuts down on scum. I have a couple of those kiln jars which my sister's friend brought over from Chicago with various pickled veg in them and I treasure them so! Have a great weekend, Jennifer and chin up - sometimes all it takes is a little 'me' time to get rid of that 'blah' feeling. Hope you get some soon. x

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  41. Sorry, forgot to say, warming your sugar in a cool oven is a good idea too!

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  42. Congratulations on your jam making success Jennifer, plum jam is one of the nicest jams to make because you nearly always get a good set. I used to make loads of it when I lived in Syria removing the stones was a bit of a pain but it was worth it in the end. I'm making blackcurrant jam tomorrow I don't have that many but maybe enough for a couple of smallish jars. I have never heard of fruit leather and had to look it up I bet it tastes delicious, have a great weekend. :)

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  43. I adore the pretty fabric in the first photo! I have never had plum jam, but I believe I would love it since I love plums. I would like to make a batch of homemade jam some day. It would also make for really nice gifts! I have felt a bit blah lately myself. I think it's just the time of year and the persistent heat. Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

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  44. Your tiny and tart plums look rather like damsons or wild plums, Jennifer and yes, they are hard to stone, but make wonderful jam. I love jam-making too and will be making apricot jam the French way sometime this summer. I'm glad your summer break is going well.

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  45. Oh goodness what an incredible harvest! I, too, have "lofty" ideas for self-sufficiency....and I agree, every teeny, tiny bit helps! :) The jam and fruit leather look amazing! I've never made fruit leather before. You've inspired me! xo Jen

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  46. What beautiful jam! I have been taking a Goldilocks approach to jam this year: the strawberry was too runny, the blueberry too thick, and now the peach is just right. There really is something about doing for ourselves that is quite appealing, with the added benefit that the thought of plum preserves brings back happy memories of summers spent reading Anne of Green Gables.

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  47. Yum and bet it all smelled fabulous....doing a blog catchup

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  48. Fab jam...I've tried some today. I'm not sure its set as much as I'd like...but we'll see. Beautiful photos again, especially the small bears in the trees :-)

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