All Plums are under Venus.Culpepper’s Complete Herbal
This is a recipe for making Black Doris Plum Jam, and it’s also a post about gratitude. As the quote from Culpepper notes, plums have very feminine energy and are associated with love and protection. For example, according to Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs (1998: P80), branches were placed over entryways to protect against evil intrusion. This is ironic, given that a plumb thief inspired this post.
We planted a small plum tree at the bottom of our garden last Autumn/Fall. I observed it to see if it would fruit, and yes! Little green plums grew day by day over early summer. And just like that (no, not the HBO show – which I don’t like, by the way), there were purple plums all over the little tree, almost ready to eat. But not quite. And there lies the problem. I took my plums for granted, and when I revisited it, after a busy couple of days, they were all GONE.
My partner said it was birds. I think it was our resident gang of rats, who are allies with delinquent local birds. An axis of power with whom I am at war. But it didn’t matter who did it. The tree was stripped, and my dream of eating my first plum harvest had disappeared.
But there is a happy ending.
I visited our farmers market a few days later, and Black Doris plums were everywhere. And very cheap. So I took two boxes of ‘seconds’ home for the same price as two bags of potato chips (crisps for those of you in the UK) and got to work with great gratitude to the universe. I trusted that something would work out in the end, and it did.
I am going to show you the process. It’s not really a recipe and, to be honest, you may not like the result – which was a bit runny (not hard set mainly because I didn’t use lots of sugar) and a little tart. (Hey, I am not jam shaming. I mean, I don’t have a sweet tooth.) I’m showing you because it’s a nice story of something being lost but coming back in another way. An example of the power of connection to a place. Here is the video and instructions. For another story about connecting to a place, take a look here.
So here’s what you do . . .
- First find and sterilise your jars. In my case I picked my way through our shed, sniffed all of my hoarded jars, and found neutral smelling ones (the vinegary ones I use for pickling). It sounds gross (and it is) but also practical because the essence of previous food stays even if cleaned vigorously with baking soda and vinegar. I soak my jars in hot soapy water so I can take off the labels. (This is either an easy task or involves lots of wire brush scrubbing – nothing in between. It’s a great opportunity to work on anger issues.) I sterilise in the oven, lids off, at around 120 Celcius (248 F) and keep them there until I am ready for them. Meanwhile, I clean out the lids with Methylated Spirits or Isopropyl Alcohol and leave them to dry.
2. Weigh your plums. I weighed then washed them. (In that order because I didn’t want to be bothered dealing with wet plums.) They weighed out at 1.6kg (about 3.5 pounds). I say nearly all my plums because I left a heap of them to eat while I cooked.
3. Grab your other ingredients:
sugar – 3/4 kilo (1.6 lbs) I generally go by feel (except when I make posh cakes). For me, it depends on the type of fruit, the state of the fruit (these were very ripe), how sugar-friendly I felt that week etc. Generally, most jam recipes call for almost equal sugar to jam, but I find that a lot.
about 1/4 cup of water in a jug.
4. Pit the plums. Now, this can be a lovely mindful process of cutting then twisting. You can watch an example in the video. After a while, it was a blood bath. I’m sure there are good hacks not to get your hands, board etc., stained. I use baking soda on the board, and it wears off your hands. You won’t be Lady McBeth forever.
5. Pour in the water and juice from the lemon. You can tie the pits in a pretty bundle and throw them in for flavour. And because it avoids waste. About now, put a couple of small, clean plates in your freezer. I will explain why later.
6. After about 30mins of softening and stirring, I added the sugar and brought it up to a solid heat. Keep a good eye on it, so it doesn’t burn. At this point, you shouldn’t just walk away and start DMing your friends. It would be best to watch that pan, or it will turn on you like a burnt snake.
7. When the thermometer hits 104/105 Celcius (around 219 Fahrenheit), start testing with the small plates you put in the freezer. I usually put in three, so I can easily get a fresh one when I lick the jam right off the plate. Dribble a teaspoon-ish of your mixture onto the plate and leave it 30 secs. Then run your finger down the middle of it and see if the two sides stay apart (or you can push it a little from the side and see if it wrinkles).
You can also tell by how the jam drips off the spoon and how it sits in the pan if a setting has occurred. Usually, around 105 C/220F, most jams will set if there is the right time, sugar, heat and pectin.
If you find it doesn’t set, buy some jam setting mix from your grocer and reboil it. Or call it a ‘preserve’ or ‘sauce’, pour it over ice cream and feel good about your resilience and inventiveness.
8. Take your jars out and pour your mixture into them. Then quickly put on the lids while everything is hot. I pour my jam pot into a pre-heated Pyrex jug and then into the jars. I keep the jars on the (clean) tray and I can then catch stray drips when I pour. (I draw the line at licking oven trays – so eat with a teaspoon). After leaving a little room at the top, screw the lid on hard and leave them alone.
At the end of the video, you can see some slightly runny jam that is just poured out. It set much thicker the next day. Wow, it tasted good.
So there you go. Support your local farmer’s market if you can afford it and do swaps with neighbours to get your produce. And give thanks for the fruit and send goodwill to the people who tended and picked it. Am off to eat jam. And plums. Again.
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