Month nine Tigress’s can jam canning challenge and for September the ingredient chosen by Kate at the Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking is stone fruits. It couldn’t have been a better choice for me than this, as where I live is plum country. We even have our own local variety, the Blaisdon plum, that grows just about everywhere and apart from the occasional year when a late frost might have nipped an abundant harvest in the bud, we are usually all drowning in plums by the end of August. As well as Blaisdon trees growing in peoples gardens they grow along hedgerows and overhang onto public footpaths. In the lane that leads up to my house I can count at least 10 trees. The big problem is that not all the fruit will be within arms reach and most will be impossible to harvest no matter how resourceful and well equipped you might be.
Blaisdons were once a popular variety grown for the jam making trade but became less useful once freezing fruit opened up the market, enabling manufacturers to go further afield and shop around on price. I read somewhere of someone locally with a small orchard of Blaisdons where a railway line once ran along the bottom of the garden, so the freshly picked fruit was loaded straight onto the train that then chugged its way directly to the factory, collecting fruit from others along the way.
Stephen, who lives next door but one from me, has a Blaisdon tree that very conveniently overhangs a raised decking platform in his garden. He said I could help myself to his crop, and so of course I did. This meant my September ingredient has not only been plentiful but also absolutely free. As well as these purple plums I picked some lovely acid yellow ones that grow in the field behind the house. I haven’t a clue what kind they are. And then there are the damsons… I’m not even going to include them here, suffice to say I’ve picked basket loads.
As is always the way when dealing with a glut, you have to act fast and be ready for processing. It is a mad dash to get everything tucked in and put away before the fruit flies decide to set up camp in your kitchen. I wanted to save as many plums as possible to use as ingredients later, so some have been cooked and stoned then packed into containers in the freezer. The freezer has its uses but it fills up fast and I suspect costs an outlandish amount to run. Frozen ingredients can rack up considerable additional hidden costs making my free plums not quite such a great deal. I now prefer to can as much produce as possible. Once in the jar and processed, the fruit is ready-to-go whenever required with no thawing time, you simply pop the seal and run with it.
One of my favourite discoveries since my canning journey began is bottling fruit compotes. These ready-made desserts are then instantly available and the processing means you can use less sugar. This month, as well as plums done and dusted every conceivable way, whole, squashed and pureed, specially for the Can Jam I’ve made a plum compote and filled my favourite vintage 70’s Kilner jars. I love the look of them and think it’s about time Ravenhead Kilner had the imagination to reissue them. Don’t they know bottling is back!
PLUM & BLUEBERRY COMPOTE IN CALVADOS SYRUP
Adapted from a recipe in my favourite book Fancy Pantry (1986) by Helen Witty
For each 1litre (1 quart) jar you will need:
850g (1 3/4lbs) whole plums
125g (1 cup) blueberries, rinsed and drained
3 Tbsp calvados or other good brandy
For the syrup:
275g (1 1/2 cups) sugar
0.5ltr (2 cups) water
Prepare the water bath, jars and seals ready for canning. For more info about how to hot water process, refer to the guide here.
Make the syrup by combining the sugar and water in a pan and stir to dissolve the sugar over a medium heat. Once dissolved turn up the heat and bring to the boil, then simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Pierce each plum 2 or 3 times with a skewer or tooth pick then gently poach half of the plums for a jar at a time in the simmering syrup for about 3 minutes.
Gently lift the plums out of the syrup and pack them into a hot jar so it is filled to just below half way. Place the blueberries on top, allowing them to fall down into the gaps between the plums and the inside of the jar in a decorative way. Poach the other half of the plums in the same way then fill the jar with them, packing them to leave the appropriate amount of headroom for your type of jar. Pour 3 Tbsp calvados over the plums then top up with syrup.
De-bubble the sides using a small spatula or chopstick, wipe jar rims clean, before sealing and placing in the hot water bath. Process for 25 minutes, remove from the bath, then leave till cold before testing the seals. Label and store.
Scale down for 500ml (1/2pt) jars and process for 20 minutes.