It looks like it's going to be a bumper plum crop this year, so I was pleased to see my hedgerow 'stash' close by was looking ripe and plentiful a couple of days ago. I'm not sure whether the trees were planted as part of the hedgerow or have sprouted from discarded stones. On closer inspection it looks like there are 3 different plum trees: one looking like an Oullins Gage, one which could be a cherry - though there is a cherry plum - and another bright red variety - about the size of a damson - which fits in between the other two sizewise. I did ponder whether the yellow plum might be a Bullace - a wild plum usually found in hedgerows - but having looked at lots of photos on the 'net, I'm happier with the gage variety.
All of these trees are ready for picking early on in the season, so I had a very happy half hour the other evening resulting in 4lbs of them in my bag and still plenty to go! Some were stewed for tea, but I used the bulk of them for jam, following the recipe given in River Cottage's Preserves Handbook - fast becoming my hedgerow harvest recipe bible.
As I got the plums for free, I suppose I could also put this recipe into my frugal category. Don't worry if you haven't got a garden or hedgerow plum tree close by, they're extremely cheap in the shops and markets at the moment. This means you're most likely to be buying British produce too. Award yourself bonus points if they've come from Worcestershire, the 'home' of our English plums. They're also central to my childhood memories of roaming the countryside with my cousins around Inkberrow for the summer. We'd pick dark, luscious damsons straight from the hedgerow and wander down the lane depositing the fruits' stones back from whence they came.
- Halve and stone the plums and place in a large pan with the water
- Bring the pan just to the boil and simmer the plums slowly for 15-20 minutes until the plum skins are soft.
- Add the sugar and stir until dissolved
- Bring to the boil and boil rapidly until setting point is reached - usually 10-12 minutes - if you have fruit bobbing about on the surface, the jam's probably not ready as the fruit needs to absorb the sugar and thus become heavier until set point is reached. If this happens, boil for a further 2-4 minutes
- Pot the jam into warmed jars and cover. Use within 12 months
Hints, Tips and Variations:
- I used plums which were just about soft when I squeezed them slightly. This means they aren't fully or over ripe and will have the maximum amount of pectin available to help with jam set
- Only use perfect fruit - discard any pecked by birds for instance
- I use Fairtrade granulated sugar, which is also the cheapest where I go shopping :)
- How long the plum skins take to soften depends on the size of the plums you're using. You must make sure the skins are soft before adding the sugar as this will halt the softening process
- Set point is reached when a little jam spread on a cold plate - e.g. put in the fridge for the purpose - and left for a minute wrinkles when pushed with a finger. The liquid will also drop off a spoon in little jagged flakes instead of drops when set point is reached
- The recipe also suggests cracking open a few of the plum stones using nutcrackers to extract the kernels. Place them in a bowl and pour over some boiling water and leave for a minute. Rub off the kernels' skin and add them to the jam at stage 1 or 2 to add an almond flavour to the finished result. Unfortunately I couldn't do this with my plums as the kernels were tiny
- Other variations suggested in the book: replace some of the water with freshly squeezed orange juice and/or add 2 cinnamon sticks. Or add 100g chopped walnuts to the jam towards the end of boiling time