Practically every morning of the year, The Artist gets up and has toast with jam. He loves almost every flavor and is always perusing the aisle in the grocery store, looking for new brands to try. But his favorite by far is the jam his father makes from the fruit he grows in his yard.
My father-in-law’s jam could easily win every ribbon at the county fair if he ever entered the competition. Yep, it really is that good. Last week he had surgery to correct a back problem and is carefully recuperating. Unfortunately this is exactly the time of year his plum tree is full of ripening fruit. We couldn’t let all that beautiful fruit go to waste, so instead of him canning this year it was up to me.
The Artist and I went out in the yard with a basket and started collecting the plums. I was suddenly a teenager again, with the whole summer stretching in front of me, days of laughing with friends and swimming until dark, wearing cut off jeans and bikini tops to baseball games without a worry in the world. It is amazing how the feel of the sun, scent of the ripe plums and the breeze on my face evoked such vivid memories.
With the basket nearly filled we looked up and the tree was still full of fruit. We are thinking of setting up a fruit stand out in front of the house and selling what we can’t use. If we sold lemonade too, it really would be going back to my childhood. J
The Artist grew up spending most of his summers helping the family pick, haul and can a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. When everyone else was having pool parties, he was elbow-deep in tomatoes. Of course his parents were able to make the most incredible pasta sauce all year long, but somehow that wasn’t enough reward for a young boy wanting to be out having fun with his friends.
For years I have wanted to go out to Brentwood, pick a bunch of fruit and make my own jam, but each time I brought it up, The Artist shot it down. The trauma of all those years of forced labor left him with unhappy memories and he had no interest in reliving them. I kept threatening to make it without him, but somehow just never got around to doing it. But this year the timing was right.
I will tell you that having a second person to help with the work was a huge benefit. I know it would have taken a lot longer without The Artist’s assistance; besides, it was fun to share the experience with him. Of course at the end of the day he was bragging about all the jam he had made, LOL.
Against the advice of every thing I had read, we doubled the recipe because we had so much fruit to use. I wouldn’t recommend doing that for your first try, but I had an experienced helper who was sure we could handle it. Now that I have done it, I know it would be easy to do again and I know you will feel the same when you make your batch!
I did my homework before starting, spent time talking with my father-in-law about the tricks he has learned over the years, and read everything I could find on the Internet. I was excited, a little scared, and nervous that the jam wouldn’t set correctly. But I figured that even if it didn’t, we would have great tasting plum syrup to share. I got lucky and the jam turned out perfectly! It isn’t exactly the same as my father-in-law’s, but it is darn good and I am very proud of my first attempt. I can’t wait for the rest of the stone fruits to ripen so I can try my hand at nectarine and peach.
We used the recipe included in the box of Sure.Jell pectin and it was extremely easy. I recommend that you use a whisk to stir it into the fruit so you don’t wind up with any lumps. Also, use a much larger pot than you think you need. The fruit will give off liquid, the sugar melts and the whole thing expands beyond belief. I was really glad I used my big stockpot because I needed just about every inch of it to handle the double batch.
As I stood there pitting the plums and cooking them down, I felt reconnected to my grandmother who taught me to cook. She used to do the same thing, as did all the women of her generation. It is a shame that we are losing those skills and experiences. But with the birth of food blogs, the passionate men and women behind them and a push to find healthier ways to feed our families, I am hoping that more and more people will find the same joy and sense of pride I did when I made my jam.
Make your own jam and you can enjoy the taste of summer all year long!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
There are some tools that will make this project much simpler and safer (all with stay-cool handles)… a wide-mouth funnel, a jar lifter/gripper, a magnetic lid lifter. You will also need a very large, deep pot for the water bath and a metal rack that sets into the pot to hold the jars in addition to the large pot you will use to cook down the fruit. You can buy a Home Canning Kit with all the utensils or buy them individually.
- 6 cups pitted and chopped fruit (from about 4 lb fully ripe plums)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 box SURE-JELL Fruit Pectin
- 1/2 tsp butter or margarine
- 7 to 8 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl
- Prepare Jars: Bring large canning pot, half-full with water, to a simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. This pot of hot water will be used later on for the water bath. Drain jars well before filling. Alternately, once washed and dried, you can keep the jars and lids warm in a low oven on a baking sheet.
- Place a small salad plate into the freezer. You will use this to test the thickness of the cooking jam. Place a triple layer of kitchen towels on your counter top. This is where you will set the filled jars.
- Prepare Fruit: Remove pits from plums. Do not peel (the peels add the deep color). Finely chop or grind fruit. If the plums are small you can simply quarter them and use a food mill later. Place fruit in large saucepan; the fruit should not fill more than about half of the volume of pan. Add 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 5 min.
- If you want a smoother jam, transfer the cooked fruit to a food mill set over a very large bowl. It will make it easy to separate and remove the skins, which can be very bitter. Measure exactly 6 cups prepared fruit into a 6- or 8-qt. saucepot.
- Make Jam: Stir pectin into fruit in saucepot. Add butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn't stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 min., stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon and discard.
- Check the thickness of a small amount of the cooking jam on the frozen plate. It should set up quickly with the cold. When it reaches the right consistency on the plate, it is ready to pour into jars.
- Pull the baking sheet with the jars and lids out of the oven and place on the stove next to the pot of jam. Use the jar lifter and work with one jar at a time.
- Fill Jars: Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8-inch of tops. Fill over the first thread. Wipe jar rims and threads with damp cloth. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw bands tightly.
- Place jars upside down on towel-covered counter for 12 minutes, and then turn them upright. This will help set the seal of the lids. *
- Water Bath: Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches; add boiling water if needed.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 10 min.
- Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely. You will hear the lids popping as each one seals. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with finger. (If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)
- Sealed jars are shelf-stable for about 1 year. Once you have opened a jar, keep it in the refrigerator and use it within a couple of weeks if possible.
- Yield: About 10 (1-cup) jars
- * If you are making jam, you can stop at this point and let the jars cool upright undisturbed. This is the old-fashioned way of making jam. The new guidelines recommend using a water bath for all canning. If you are preserving any vegetables or other ingredients, you MUST use the water bath technique.