Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Plums, Plums, Plums

The plums are falling from the branches of my tree. Twice a day I can go out and gather a small armload of them. We've had them fresh until we can't eat another one. We've sent baskets to friends and to my husband's office. I've given almost 5 pounds of them to a local Food Bank (more about that in a separate post) and this weekend I finally got culinary with 'em. Not that I minded walking into the kitchen and smelling them in the air like perfume, mind you. But they have a limited life and I just couldn't keep up.

Plum Kuchen 3
So I made a plum kuchen and then I did plum butter. The kuchen is already a memory, but the plum butter will remind us of Summer when the weather turns cold and not so much is coming from the garden. And this is the story — just a trifle Little Red Hen — of just how that's possible.

Here they are on the tree several weeks ago only beginning to ripen. Only a single one at the top left is developing its ripe purple color.
A Branchful of Plums
And here's a basket full of ripe ones. At least they were ripe enough to fall from the tree. They're best after they've had 24 to 48 hours for all the sugar to develop. They'll turn dark, that lovely haze will disappear and the aroma will be sweet and seductive. These are Santa Rosa Plums.
Basket of Plums

The kuchen was easy. It was a simple lightly sweetened biscuit dough onto which I placed slices of plums.

The plum butter wasn't hard either. It just took more time and had quite a few more steps but, in case you've never done any canning before, they're not nearly so intimidating as you might think. AND they DO make possible that whole thing of having the flavor of fruit when Summer's long gone.

The first step is to get your batterie de cuisine ready because when it's done it all happen fast and you want to have this all at the ready. There is a funnel to keep things flowing. A jar lifter so you don't have to touch the very, very hot water. A ladle and a silicone spoon. And the sterilized jars and lids. Prepare more jars and lids than you think you need because you don't want to have to go back and sterilize another jar when the fruit is all done and needs to stay hot. I thought I was only going to get two jars. I needed all three of the full-sized ones but I didn't use the little teeny one I put there for "just a taste" of what wouldn't fit in a jar.
Batterie de Cuisine

The ingredients were very simple: 2 pounds of plums (about 6 cups sliced), a cup and a half of sugar, a quarter of a cup of fresh lemon juice, a chili de arbol pod for zip and vanilla seeds (I used that new vanilla paste) to balance out the sharpness. No need for pectin because plums have a lot of natural pectin.
Simple Ingredients

Everything (even the skins!) goes in a pot to boil for 5 minutes or so until the fruit pulp is very soft. The color still has some resemblance to the amber of the fresh fruit but some of that plumy purple from the skins is in evidence too. The chili pod is right there on the surface between 9 o'clock and noon. You can see from the bubbles how thin the liquid still is but below them there's a lot of pulp.
First Boil

At this point, it's time to strain it through a food mill. I didn't have a mechanical one and I think it's the first time in my life I've ever wished I did. It would have been much faster than mine. And I wouldn't have had to put the final stubborn bits through my potato ricer. Whatever. It separated the juice from the remaining peels and let me mash through the softened pulp. There was very little in the way of intact skin left. Don't forget to take that chili pod out before you start forcing anything through the mill!
Straining through Food Mill

Now it boils a second time to reduce it to a thick butter. I cooked mine for about an hour and a quarter stirring, especially the bottom, frequently. That's hot sugar and we all know how quickly that can burn!
At the End of Cooking

There are lots of ways to decide when it's cooked enough. I did it based on the viscosity. If you compare it to the photo of the first boil you can see how much it's reduced in volume and how much larger and more organized the bubbles are. Besides, I was tired of wiping up pretty pinky purple polka dots from the stovetop and all of the counters for 2 feet around the pot!

Now, while the fruit is hot and the jars are as well (that's important because if the jars have cooled the hot liquid may break them and you DON'T want to have to clean up that mess!), it goes into the jars. Be sure to leave a quarter inch of headspace and wipe the rims clean. Put on the tops. Yours may have the rubber compound on the lid and rings that hold it in place. I just love the pretty German jars I use. They have glass lids with rubber sealing rings that let me see the vacuum being created and they have a very graceful shape that's lovely to look at in the pantry for the next several months.

Here they are in their water bath. Isn't it clever that I can see through the pot lid and the lids on the jars? The water needs to be at least an inch above the lids and it needs to be hot when the jars go in. When it comes to a full, rolling boil, I begin timing and let them be processed for 10 minutes. During that time I can watch a small stream of air bubbles escaping through the rubber rings and creating the vacuum that keeps the fruit fresh.
Water Bath

When they're done you'll really be glad you have that lifter to get them out of the water and place them on an insulating towel! Let them have several hours to cool off before you check for the seal. I think the simplest way to do that is to remove whatever is holding the lid in place (in my case it's two tiny little clips but you may have the threaded rings). Now lift the jar (an inch is enough — just in case) by just the lid. Will it hold the weight of the jar and the fruit? If it does, you're golden! If it doesn't, no prob! Just put the fruit in the fridge and start enjoying it. But let it rest for a couple of days to develop a complex, mellow flavor. It will keep in your fridge for at least a month.

If you're using the two-piece metal lids with the convex tops and IF you're around when the seal is complete, you can hear the little "ping" of the vacuum sucking the lid down into a concave shape. If you're not around when it happens you can feel it. But my gravity test makes it very clear to me just how strong that vacuum is.

Here is my weekend's work. And, look! Even more plums!
Plums, Plums, Plums


Blogger Ana said...

Hi Rainey

That is a wonderful kuchen and butter. My mouth is watering just looking at the photos. By the way, I like the quality of your photos very much.

Sorry that I cannot respond to you directly. When we post a comment the click back goes to the webpage and you do not have, on your Blogger account, an email for use by people outside so this is the only way for me to answer your question.

What you are looking for is called "Expandable Post Summaries" and the instructions are in Blogger Help > Advanced Use > Blogger Hacks > How can I create expandable post summaries?

If you want to drop me a line, please do at ana4605-blogs at yahoo dot ca.

7:27 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Wow and wow - it all looks fabulous.

10:24 PM  
Blogger Rainey said...

Thank you both!

I'm just learning as I go along and your tips, Ana, will help me make this a more useable resource. Meanwhile, it's doing a good job of keeping me focused and keeping my garden drivel off the C&Z forum. And, I expect, it will be useful as a guide to what has worked and what hasn't as I plan future gardening.

I'm so excited that you actually stopped BACK!

Best to you both!

9:39 AM  
Blogger Basket said...

Vous avez un blog très agréable et je l'aime, je vais placer un lien de retour à lui dans un de mon blogs qui égale votre contenu. Il peut prendre quelques jours mais je ferai besure pour poster un nouveau commentaire avec le lien arrière.

Merci pour est un bon blogger.

4:04 PM  
Blogger knowitallman said...

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6:43 PM  
Blogger Jillatwork said...

This kuchen is very nice. Is it Bisquick dough?

8:48 PM  

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