Thursday, November 5, 2009

We be jammin'

No matter how much I try, I am a baker not a cook. I've always envied those that can step into the kitchen without a plan, swing open the fridge and produce the perfect, or at the very least edible, three course dinner. I end up swinging open the fridge door....and then making mac-n-cheese. With water, because I'm usually out of milk. Or ramen with whatever vegetable or herb is lying around hiding behind a row of colorful jars full of frosting leftovers. Whenever I have company coming, I always get very anxious and I research different dinner menus for days on end, make extensive shopping lists of things the cashiers can't pronounce, let alone know how to ring up, and run around like a chicken with it's head cut off (shoot, I forgot to buy the chicken!) trying to make sure that everything comes out just as the recipes, and numerous reviewers, promised. I don't know how, but my mother, who has entertained on many various occasions over the last few decades, always manages to put out a table groaning under all the assorted dishes with seemingly no effort at all. And should you ask her for a recipe, oh my, you better have a bit of patience. She speaks in ingredients, not quantities. The recipe for a herring spread, for example, will start with "send your father to the store" because no one else knows exactly what to get, how much to pay or how many to get and you're just doomed right away should you go without him. The rest of the recipe will go downhill for me because everything will depend on just how many herring he bought, how big they were, how low the tide was that month and how many chipmunks ran across the back yard driving our cat crazy in the last 14 minutes. These conversations inevitably send me running to google as I frantically enter the ingredients into the search box to see if anyone else has tried making this concoction.

Ripped up plums
This is exactly what happened when I asked for my mom's awesome plum jam recipe. Everyone loves when she makes it and my dad's only complaint about it is that it gets a bit runny making it hard to quickly fish out of the jar with a fork without getting caught (she keeps the fruit chunks big for him to think he's getting away with it). I came across a small mountain of perfectly ripe Italian plums at the store and since I've been on a small jamming frenzy lately, I called her to ask how she makes her jam.

Mom: "You'll need a lot of plums and some sugar and then just cook everything down"
Me: "But how much sugar do you add? How many cups of plums? How long do you cook it?"
Mom: "I don't ever much you want and until it's done. Why are you making it anyways? I gave you a jar just the other day."
Me: "Sigh" and off to the internet

I was surprised to learn that there are not that many recipes out there for this jam, which is shocking because it's AWESOME! It goes great on pancakes, toast, inside crepes, with tea and a spoon, on waffles and I'm told it's even good with pork. I did find some reasonable recipes, but they seemed to add gimmicks, like cinnamon or Grand Marnier, which is nice, but all I wanted was straight up Plum Jam. Other recipes included a pound for pound ratio of plums to sugar...and that's just crazy, or at least way to sweet for my taste. I'll try not to judge. So I decided to combine a bit of what I've learned from the other jam recipes that I tried and just whip something up.

Since I wanted to repeat this experiment if it went well, I measured everything and the ratio that I came up with is 1 cup of sugar per pound of pitted fruit and a tablespoon of freshly juiced lemon. I like recipes that are easy to remember :D These are the amounts I ended up using and in the end I had about ten 8oz jars of yummy jam:

6 pounds of washed and pitted plums
6 scant cups of sugar
juice from 2 lemons

- The lemons are high in pectin and would make sure that the mixture jelled well even if I didn't want to thicken it with sugar. I ripped the plums into shreds using my fingers while I was pitting them. Why get a knife and a cutting board dirty? It's faster and more satisfying to do it by hand anyways. I then mixed all the ingredients and let the mixture stand for 30 min in the fridge. I mean, hey, it did wonders for the strawberry jam back in July, so it can't hurt here either, right?
- Then I dumped everything into a huge pot, making sure there's plenty of room because the mixture will rise and bubble and you wouldn't want all your work to run away from you, turned the heat to medium and cooked for about 20 minutes until the fruit was very soft.

Cooking Plums
- I took it off the heat and used my immersion blender to smooth out the mixture into a rough pulp. You don't have to do this, but I wanted a more spreadable jam.
- I popped a plate into the freezer (this will make sense later) and put the pot back over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once it looked like it was getting to the right consistency (about 15 more minutes) I took the plate out of the freezer and dropped a few drops of the jam on it. Let the drop sit there for a bit and then nudge it with your finger. If it wrinkles, even a little, the jam is done. If it just runs away from your finger, it needs to be cooked a bit longer, so put the plate back into the freezer and test again in 5 minutes. You may want to skim the jam if it gets too foamy, but I got lazy and just kept stirring.

Foamy Jam
- Fill several clean jars within a half inch from the top with the jam and screw on clean, pre-boiled for 5 minutes, lids.
- Put your jars into a large canning pot and fill with water so that the water covers the jars by an inch. Put over high heat and once the water starts to boil, set the timer to 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, turn off the heat, fish out the jars with tongs and let them cool completely on a kitchen towel. I like to flip them upside down while they're cooling. This may not do anything, but I'm convinced it gives the jars a better seal. The tops should all pull in and not budge when you press them with your finger. If one of your jars doesn't seal properly, feel free to give it another hot bath, but I haven't run into this scenario yet, so I'm sure you have nothing to worry about.
- Make pretty labels, wrap in pretty paper, hide in the pantry or share with a friend, the jam should keep for a year...that is if it survives that long without getting eaten :D

I'm still having camera problems and it was too late at night to make the jars all pretty, so you'll just have to take my word for it when I say the jam came out a perfect dark purple and looked and tasted just like my mom's, that is to say, yummy!

1 comment:

Truly Smitten said...

Wow! this looks hard yet I'm very tempted to try it! You're post about your mom was hilarious =)