Plums are not my favorite fruit. Even the best ones, eaten out of hand, don’t do much for me; to my taste, the skin is sour and the flesh insipid. However – as I learned years ago from a recipe for plum sorbet – a little home processing brings about a marvelous change. There is actually a lot of complex flavor lurking in that bland fruit, and unlocking it is easy.
So when I received a pound of pretty plums from the CSA, I knew I wanted to cook them. I didn’t want to make the same sorbet I had made before – I like to experiment, and besides, my freezer is already full of ice cream and gelato. I had great success last summer with strawberry jam, so I decided to try it with plums. Making your own jam may sound daunting, but it’s really just mixing fruit with sugar and boiling it for a while. You can spend a lot of time testing to see if it will gel, or you can just figure if it doesn’t, you’ll have some fabulous fruit syrup for pancakes or ice cream. You really can’t lose.
After Googling “plum jam” and sifting through almost a dozen recipes, I settled on an exquisitely simple, pectin-free recipe from Food & Wine. Then I set about complicating it. Though plum jam sounded nice, plum jam enhanced with a few spices sounded even better. After a quick consultation with The Flavor Bible, I selected cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger, plus a little vanilla to round out the sweetness.
The recipe starts with a technique I first used for Very Strawberry Frozen Yogurt, a recipe from David Lebovitz: The cut fruit is macerated with sugar for an hour. This simple technique does an amazing job of drawing out both the color and flavor of the fruit, so the final product is gorgeously vibrant. Just look at the ruby red of that jam!
The amount of spices I used gave me a delicately spiced jam. For a really spicy jam, double or even triple the spices – and, of course, feel free to experiment. I think a hint of anise would be interesting and delicious here. Other spices The Flavor Bible suggests for plums include allspice, nutmeg, mace, and cloves. And I think a little red chile could really sing here.
I’m not giving canning instructions; the recipe makes less than a quart – though it could easily be multiplied – and if you have the equipment for canning, you already know how to can a simple jam. (I tried canning some years ago, but didn’t have the patience for it.) I’m a big fan of Ball Plastic Freezer Jars, which you can find at grocery stores in the summer with other canning supplies. I froze half of my batch for later, and am sure we’ll have no problem using up what’s in the fridge!
Spiced Plum Jam
Yield: about 1.5 cups Time: 2 hours Hands-on: 30 minutes
1 pound plums (about 4 medium)
3/4 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
3 coin-sized pieces fresh ginger or a few chunks candied ginger
Roughly chop the plums and place in a medium saucepan. Stir in the sugar and spices and let sit, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. The sugar will mostly dissolve, forming a grainy syrup.
Place the saucepan over high heat and add the lemon and vanilla. Cook, stirring often, until the liquid starts to boil. Turn the heat down to medium and let simmer, stirring occasionally, as the jam thickens, 20 to 30 minutes. As the mixture thickens you will need to stir more often to prevent sticking.
When the mixture is fairly thick and runs off a spoon in heavy drops, turn off the heat. If you like, you can test it by dropping a droplet on a freezer-chilled plate to see if it sets up. (It will thicken when it’s chilled. There is a small chance it won’t set fully, in which case you will have an amazing plum syrup to serve over pancakes or ice cream.) Let cool slightly, fish out the cinnamon stick, and pour carefully into a storage container. Refrigerate or freeze.