Growing up on a small Vermont homestead, I was often put to work harvesting and preserving the seasonal bounty. We had a two-acre garden and miles of wild fruits and berries to sustain our family of six. I helped fill five-gallon buckets with blueberries and wheelbarrows with cucumbers, and took hikes through the woods with my dad to find hidden apple trees. After the harvest, I would help my mom fill row after row of mason jar with tomatoes, dilly beans, raspberry jam, apple butter, and cucumbers, just to name a few. Months later, with our home covered in snow, we’d fill our bellies with the fruits of our labor.
Though I no longer live in the country, I’m often reminded of that life when the plum trees of Seattle are overflowing with fruit. A few weeks ago, a friend and I biked to the house of a neighbor, who had more plums then he knew what to do with, and picked about twelve pounds worth. We then sat around chatting while we pitted the plums, cooked, and filled jars with sweet, velvety plum jam.
If you know where to look and what to pick, a country life can be found, even in a bustling metropolis.
Here’s a recipe for plum jelly from Canning & Preserving Your Own Harvest, a handy offshoot of The Encyclopedia of Country Living.
Canning and Preserving
Most old neighborhoods seem to have at least one ancient plum tree, buzzing with yellow jackets and laden with fruit that goes unpicked. Don a protective long-sleeved shirt and brave the wasps for the makings of this beautiful jewel-toned jelly. Different varieties of plums will yield slightly different results as their natural pectin levels vary. Damson plums are very tart with acidic skins and are much higher in pectin than other plums, for example.
Season: Mid- to late summer
Yield: 6 cups
Store: Cool, dark pantry
4 pounds Italian prune plums, halved and pitted (at least
1/4 of which should be barely ripe)
2 cups water
3 to 4 cups sugar
3 to 5 tablespoons lemon juice
Place the plums and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer until the fruit is very soft, 15 to 20 minutes.
Transfer the fruit to a dampened jelly bag or cheesecloth-lined colander suspended over a bowl. Drain for several hours to fully extract the juices. The yield will be about 4 cups. Do not press on the fruit, squeeze the bag, or try to hurry the process in any way—if you do, you will cloud what should be a rosy-golden, crystal-clear juice.
Measure the strained juice into a preserving pan and add 1 cup of sugar for every cup of plum juice; taste, adding lemon juice to make the fruit pleasantly tart.
Heat the mixture over medium-high heat to bring it rapidly to a boil, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Cook the jam until it reaches 220°F on a kitchen thermometer. Remove from heat.
Carefully ladle the hot jelly into hot, sterilized half-pint jars, allowing 1/4 inch headspace. Use a water-bath canning technique and process for 10 minutes.