This blog is about my journey into the world of canning, or "putting up" as others would like to call it. I will try to pickle almost anything and smash berries and sugar together on any given day. I'll also write about general baking, which is another passion of mine, but not as overwhelming, addictive or obsessive as canning has become.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Gone Plum Crazy

I realize it hasn't even been a week since my last post but I've been feeling guilty, so here goes.

Over the past week I've made a double batch of vanilla pear jam, apple chutney, plums in honey, plum anise jam and Chinese plum sauce.  I actually didn't think I made that much, but apparently I did.  I also properly preserved a batch of apple butter I had in the fridge for a few days.  I ran out of time on the day I made it so I threw everything in the fridge.  It can wait.  The apple butter can wait for me. 

I feel like I have a lot to talk about but I can't seem to shake the marbles in my head into any kind of order. 

Let's start with the Weck jars I ordered last week.  I am in love.  I really love different and creative jars for canning and the current Ball/Kerr jars just don't do it for me.  I don't look at a Ball jar and say, "wow, now that's a gorgeous jar."  More like, "How hard does it have to be to siphon off this vacuum tight seal of a lid so I can dig into my vanilla pear jam??"  Things changed once I opened up the Weck box. They are gorgeous.  And creative.  And modern.  And simplistically chic.  I really love them.  I ordered three types, but one I'm not crazy about.  The two that you'll see below are beautiful -

Weck Jars - Plum Anise Jam & Chinese Plum Sauce
They don't give off the typical "pop" noise as they seal, but once they are cool you just take the two clamps off and test the lid.  The lid should stay properly sealed when you try to open it (gently).  I haven't pulled on this like I'm trying to get a pickle lid off for the first time, but I did pull on it hard enough to know that it had a good and proper seal.  Usually I can at night, after work, so by the time the popping noise occurs, I'm snuggled in my bed and drifting off to sleep with the distant sound of a popping chorus in the kitchen.  It was a little quieter here this week with the Weck jars.

Let's talk about the plum recipes for today.  I have been doing almost all of my picking and harvesting fruit and veggies from Easy Pickins Orchard in Enfield, CT.  I love the place.  I'd like to drive my car halfway through the orchard and set up camp and just live there.  Except for the bugs.  It's been raining here for the past week so there are a lot of bugs out.  I am not a fan of flying creatures.  Or crawling creatures.  Some of the girls at my school say I look like a hiker.  I am as far as possible from being an actual hiker.  I told them that and they said, "well you look like a cheerleader too, were you a cheerleader in high school?"  These kids obviously need to get their eyes checked (again).  Complete opposite ends of the spectrum and I am neither.  Not a hiker and not a cheerleader.  I tend to hang out around the middle - inbetween the hikers and cheerleaders you will find the girls who like to pick fruit off of trees and then go home and mix it with sugar and pour it into jars.  That's the kinda girl I am. 

The day I picked apples for the apple butter I noticed there were a few baskets of prune plums, or Italian plums, for sale at the stand on my way out of the orchard.  I silenty gave them a once-over and then got in my car and headed home.  The next day I contacted the orchard and arranged to pick up 15 lbs of prune plums.  For what? At that moment I had no idea.  I have no idea what entered my mind at that moment to think it was necessary to purchase 15 POUNDS of plums.  Prune plums are tiny too, about half the size of the regular plum you'll see in the grocery store.  I was setting myself up for a few long nights here - laboring over the cutting board, trying to delicately cut and dice my way through 15 pounds of plums. 

This is about 2/3 of my 15 pounds
Plums in Honey was the first recipe I created using the prune plums.  This was one of the easiest and most satisfying canning recipes I've tackled to date.  It doesn't get much easier than dropping whole plums into a jar, decorating it with a cinnamon stick and then topping them off with a piping hot sweet honey/water sauce.  Really - super easy.  It took me longer to clean and sterilize the jars then it did to actually finish the recipe.  Anyone who says a finished preserved jar of whole fruit isn't pleasing to the eyes is kidding themselves.  I know why you pretend to not be interested - you don't want to share your fruit.  You don't want to put up the fruit in such a beautiful fashion that others will salivate at just the sight of it.  You are a jam/fruit/pickle hoarder, that's what you are.  You know that if you had a few shelves of beautifully preserved fruit others would inquire - where did you GET those?  Did you make those yourself?  Can I have a jar?  Can you teach me?  Do you sell them?  Can I have your entire stash?  Where do you keep your spoons?  Basically, you don't want to share your bountiful harvest.  I get it.  You want to keep it all for yourself.  You are the kind of person who wants to keep shelves upon shelves of artistically preserved fruit and vegetables in your basement just so that when you are doing laundry and glance over, it's aesthetically pleasing to you.  I don't know anyone like that.  Learn to share.

Try not to get lost in the maze of plums
Plums in Honey - I borrowed this recipe from http://www.foodinjars.com/.  One of my go-to sites for preserving.  I followed the recipe very closely with these changes/additions:

  • I added 1/2 a vanilla bean to some of the jars (along with the standard cinnamon stick)
  • I quadrupled this recipe.  I did everything 4 times as much and had enough liquid for 10 jars

Whole Plums Preserved in Honey Syrup

Ingredients:

* 1 1/2 cups of honey
* 4 cups of water
* enough plums to fill four quart jars (I used three of my four quarts)
* 4 cinnamon sticks, a vanilla bean sliced into four pieces or four star anise bits


Directions:

In a medium saucepan, combine the honey and water and bring to a boil.

Bring a canning pot or large stock pot to a boil. Put your lids into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer.

Clean canning jars and pack the plums in as tightly as you can. Insert your cinnamon stick, vanilla bean or star anise. Fill jars with honey syrup, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.

Wipe rims to remove all traces of any spilled honey syrup, apply lids and tightened rings.  Process in a boiling water canner for 25 minutes (starting time when the pot returns to a boil after the jars have been placed inside).

When processing time is up, remove the jars to a cutting board or towel-lined countertop (as they cool and seal, they might spit out a bit of sticky syrup, so don’t let them cool on any surface that can’t handle that). Let the jars cool undisturbed for 24 hours.

When jars are completely cool, remove the rings, check the seals and wipe the jars down to remove any sticky residue. Label and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

Plums in Honey
Ok, so I overestimated my plum quantity a bit.  I still had a TON of plums leftover after I did the Plums in Honey.  Probably 5 pounds, maybe more.  I started researching plum recipes and wasn't coming up with anything good.  I remembered http://www.foodinjars.com/ had a really interesting blog post a few weeks ago dealing with a Plum Anise jam recipe.  Eh, why not?  I have recently been introduced to anise and we have been getting along well so I thought I'd give it a shot. Anise is one of those rare, expensive spices that almost no one buys.  It's the type of spice you buy once, don't even remember that you have until 4 years later when a recipe just happens to call for a star of anise.  You've clearly forgotten about your $10 jar of anise stars so you buy yourself a new one.  Now you have close to $20 worth of anise stars and you really only need one lonely little star.  It's THAT type of spice.  I actually had a half a bottle of anise stars leftover from a sweet apple cider beet recipe I tackled a few weeks ago.  Lucky me.  I even remembered I had them. 

The Plum Anise jam is another super easy recipe.  You cut up the fruit, mix it with sugar and a few pieces of anise.  You let it all mingle together in a bowl on your counter for about an hour.  The sugar pulls out of the juices from the plum, which melts some of the sugar and you end up with a syrupy sweet mixture that has the subtle aroma of licorice from the anise stars.  You absolutely have to pull out the anise before you boil this jam, otherwise you'll be chomping on bits of licoricy bark with your morning English muffin.  Anise is not a spice to bite into.  They should hang out and then leave the party early.  If they don't, they morph into uninvited guests quite quickly. 

See the anise stars trying to hide?  Fish them out before they crash the party.
This recipe had three steps:
  1. Let the anise, sugar and plums hang out and party in the bowl
  2. Kick the anise out of the party and boil the sugar and plum mixture
  3. Process the jam in a boiling water canner
I've never had any type of plum jam and come to think of it, I can't remember any type of actual plum dessert I've ever had.  This was a true experiment, but a lovely one.  One worth keeping.  This jam has an uncommonly depth to its flavor and color - very rich and decadent.  A beautiful autumnal purple that quietly exhales its blissful complexity in a jar.  It's not your typical blueberry jam you slather on whole wheat toast and eat in the car on the way to work.  It's more like a Sunday afternoon treat - maybe pair it with a nice piece of cheese, a glass of wine, or better yet - dump an entire jar of this over a freshly baked (but cooled) cheesecake.  That is something I'm looking forward to trying this winter with the next cheesecake I make.  Here's an added bonus:  the jam will hide the cracks in the cheesecake.  What cracks you say?  Your cheesecake doesn't have cracks?  Well, you must be something else then.  Maybe I shouldn't have shared my fancy anise plum jam recipe with you if you're so great with a cheesecake.  But, I'm not a jam hoarder, so go ahead - dump it over your crack-less cheesecake and enjoy.  Your family and friends will thank you for it.


Here is the recipe:

Plum Anise Jam
  • 5 cups chopped Italian plums
  • 1.5 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 star anise blossoms
Combine chopped plums, sugar and star anise blossoms. Let sit for at least an hour, or until the fruit has gotten quite syrupy.

Put fruit in a medium-sized pan and place over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the jam thickens and passes the plate test.

Process the jam in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.


Party time
Shockingly, I still had plums leftover after I made the jam.  I honestly had no clue what to do with them at this point and if I waited any longer they were headed straight for the trash.  Since I couldn't stand the thought of wasting these little purple beauties, I christened one of my new canning cookbooks and stumbled upon a recipe for Chinese Plum Sauce.  Now, I can't say that I've ever had it before, but it was either this or the trash and I always vote for the recipe - the recipe always wins.  The notes in the recipe say you can use it in its traditional fashion as a dipping sauce for Chinese dishes, but it also says that it'll become your new favorite burger sauce.  That piqued my interest.  Not because I am a fan of burgers, because I am not.  It just sounds like it might be good for dipping chicken pieces into, or even a stir-fry.  Something different.  Trying something different, as my dad would say.  This is definitely outside of my comfort zone but I gave it a go.

The sauce has interesting flavors mingling together.  Plums, soy sauce, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, garlic, ginger and our good friend the anise star.  Being the star she is, she rises to the occasion, once again. 

Can you tell I had the cookbook a little too close to the stove?  Spillage.
My third plum recipe, just as simple.  As you can see from the recipe, you dump all the ingredients into the pot, boil, reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes.  Kick anise out of the party, once again, then blend.  All done.  Poor anise.  She never gets to have any fun.  Once the sauce is done, you can process it in clean, sterilized jars for 10 minutes to make them shelf-stable.  They'll keep for up to a year in a dark, cool place. 

I still haven't decided if I am in love with this recipe or not.  When I first started making it, all I could smell was soy sauce.  Plums and soy sauce play nice together, but not when you get a whiff of it from the boiling water steam emitting from the pot.  It's like it wanted to beat my nose up for no reason.  This is one of those recipes you really have to let do its thing, then taste it.  I like to jump the gun.  I always burn my tongue or my lip or the roof of my mouth, trying to taste my creation way too early.  This one fought back.  Between the sodium-lava singed nose hairs and burning my lip when I tasted it too early, I let it win.  It's definitely a completely different taste after its cooked for the full 25 minutes - much better than it was at, say, 4 minutes in when I first tried it.  Four minutes isn't nearly enough time for the party-goers to mingle enough and take on each others flavors.  At four minutes in it was a flavor battle and the soy sauce wins by a mile. 

All in all, I haven't tried it on a burger or with chicken or even Chinese food for that matter.  When I do, I'll be sure to report back to you and let you know if soy sauce and plums can really be BFF's. 

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