How lucky am I to be on vacation a few miles away from a small roadside grove of wild plum trees? A friend who was in Northern California a few weeks ago tipped me off to the secret spot and it was our first — and now a daily — destination. The first crop came home in our in-flight dog carrier with a few extra slung in the skirt of my daughter's dress.
In the last few days we've made pies and tarts, topped our morning cereal, stuffed our pockets for plummy snacks on hikes, and cooked up a few months' worth of plum jam.
If you've ever made jam, you know that it's not a quick process, nor is it tidy. You need to get it to set just right using the right balance of sugar and pectin, and you need to sterilize your jars. You need to take it slow and set aside time and space for this adventure. But if you get it right, a pot of homemade jam is something pretty special, and if the fruit comes from down the road from your vacation spot, you have achieved that sought-after ability to bottle up the flavor of your vacation and savor it for the year to come.
That's what we're going for here with this wild plum jam; a sense of summer in a jar. The batch made a little more than we needed for eight half-pint jars, so tonight we're stirring the rest into an ice cream base, using my Lemon Curd Ice Cream method.
Of course, the recipe will work with plums from the market too, so no matter where you're finding fruit this summer, I invite you to make jam.
Wild Plum Jam
4 pounds whole wild plums
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
5 cups granulated sugar
1 (3-ounce) package fruit pectin
Discard the plum pits, but leave the skin on, and finely chop the fruit (or if pitting is too difficult, throw the plums into the pot whole). Simmer the plums and water in a stainless steel pot over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer for 5 minutes. (If fruit still has pits, let the mixture cool slightly and pull out the pits using two slotted spoons. Try to keep as much of the fruit as possible. Discard pits.)
Add the sugar and bring the mixture to a full, rolling boiling over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in the pectin then return to full boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove the pot from the heat. Set aside 1 minute and using the edge of a large metal spoon, skim off any foam from the surface. To test to see if the mixture is set, put a metal tablespoon in a glass of ice water for a minute. Use it to scoop out a spoonful of the hot mixture. Let it cool slightly then check the consistency. If it isn't set enough, boil it another minute.
Meanwhile, sterilize the jars, lids and bands according to manufacturer's directions or our tutorial on hot water bath canning. Keep the pot with the boiling water on the stovetop. Ladle the jam into the sterilized jars, leaving 1/8-inch head room at the top. Wipe the rims and threads of the jars clean and seal with lids and bands. Lower the sealed jars back into the boiling water bath. Process jars in boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove jars, label, and store in cool, dry place.
(Images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)