This summer is cooler than usual where we live and we are still preserving our plums. Our tree has been wonderfully generous this season. There are many ways of preserving your plum harvest.
Firstly, gather your wide-necked glass bottles and sterilise them and the lids.
Make your syrup by boiling water and dissolving 1 cup of sugar for each cup of water. (This varies according to the fruit that you are bottling.)
Wash the fruit and remove the stems. Cut the fruit in half and take out the pip. You can bottle plums whole, but you won’t get as many in a jar.
Fill the jars with fruit: put in a few pieces and jiggle the jar to allow the fruit to settle, then add some more and shake again, filling the jar to the brim.
At this stage place three or four jars into a large pot of hot water on the stove and fill each jar with syrup. Loosely add the lids and bring the pot to the boil for about 20 minutes.
Remove the jars and seal immediately.
When the jars are cool, rinse and dry them, then label them.
This is a delicious bottling variation. You will need 1.5kg plums, 150g sugar, 6 cloves, 1 stick cinnamon, small pieces of ginger, 2 star anise, few strips of lemon peel, 500ml water and 250ml vinegar.
Alternatively: 2 cups of dry red wine instead of the water and vinegar.
Wash and halve the plums, taking out the pip. Place in sterilised jars. Put the rest of the ingredients except the vinegar in a saucepan and heat gently to dissolve the sugar. Then bring to the boil, stirring constantly and slowly add the vinegar. Pour into the jars, covering the fruit. Place the jars in a large pot of boiling water and cook as you did in the recipe above.
Making Plum Jam
To make jam, basically we boil fruit with sugar. Pick the under-ripe fruit on a dry day.
To do it in the old-fashioned way, you will need a large pot, fruit, sugar, lemon juice and jars. Use one lemon per kilo of fruit including some of the pips. Plums do not need to be peeled. Wash the fruit and cut out the pips. If you want the jam to be smooth, cut up the fruit into smaller pieces, otherwise simply halve them. Weigh the fruit. Rub the bottom of the pot with butter and cook the fruit gently until it is tender, adding a little water if necessary. Weigh the sugar, allocating 750g to 1kg sugar per kilo of fruit. Add the sugar gradually, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, allowing each addition to dissolve before adding more. Allow the jam to simmer slowly for a couple of hours – a large pot full of fruit can take up to three hours. Check constantly to ensure that it is not catching or burning. To test if the jam is done, put a little on a saucer. If, when cool, it jellies or it wrinkles when you push it, the jam is ready for pouring into the bottles. Allow the jam to cool only slightly before pouring into hot, dry, sterile jars.
Proper preserving jars with single-use metal lids and screw rings are best (called Consol jars in South Africa but commonly referred to as Mason jars in overseas recipes) but clean mayonnaise or gherkin jars can also be used. Use only glass jars.
During washing, ensure you have removed any residual smell or flavour of its previous contents. Place the jars ~ without the lids ~ in the microwave with about 3cm of water in each. Microwave on full power for five minutes. Wearing oven gloves or holding a towel, slosh the boiling water around the jar and discard. Dry the jars by standing them upside down in a warm oven ~ do not use a cloth to dry as this will just re-contaminate the glass. Mildew might occur on the jam if the jars are not dry. Boil the lids in water on the stove ~ even new lids.
Mildew might occur if the jars are not dry. If the fruit rises in the jars, the jam is too hot to bottle.
You can also make jam in a microwave oven. The colour of the fruit will be better preserved by this method. Always choose a very large, deep bowl, to prevent the mixture boiling over. Again, you cook the fruit first then add the sugar.
For diabetics, slimmers and people struggling with yeast imbalances, you can make jam with fructose or Xylitol. Use 350-500g per kilo of fruit.
Some recipes suggest that you cut the plums in half and freeze them individually on a sheet, before packing them into a freezer bag.
Another option is to parboil the plums with a little water, pour them into a freezer bag, label and freeze.
Making Plum Chutney
Chutney is usually made by cooking a mixture of fruit, vegetables, spices, sugar and vinegar. Once again this can be done in the microwave oven.
You can add other vegetables from your garden or only use plums.
You will need 2kg fruit and vegetables; 500g sugar; 500g onions finely chopped; 250g raisins or sultanas; 800ml vinegar; 4 teaspoons spice (combine ground ginger, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, mustard powder, cinnamon and mixed pickling spices); 1 tablespoon salt. Prepare fruit/vegetables according to type, then chop finely. Place in a large saucepan with remaining ingredients and simmer gently until the chutney is the required consistency, which should take about 2 hours. Stir occasionally to prevent burning. Pour into sterilised jars, seal and label.
You can dry plums in a food dehydrator. (They can be done in an ordinary oven, but they take up to 18 hours, which will be rather costly in electricity.)
Wash, halve and cut out pip. Position them on racks with the cut side up; when the cut side no longer looks wet, turn halves over and continue drying. Plum quarters, slices, or chunks generally take 8 to 12 hours. You will know that they are done when they are flexible and somewhat springy, with no moisture in the thickest part. If pieces feel mushy rather than springy, they are not dry enough.
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