As I look at plum trees in our orchard, straining under the weight of fruit, I am reminded of the delightful consequence of a frost free Spring. Picking plums heralds the arrival of the Autumn fruit season for preservers; apples, raspberries, quince, damsons and pears. In the hedgerows bountiful crops of blackberries, sloes, elderberries, hips and haws will keep foragers busy in the coming months.
Most plums belong to the species ‘Prunus domestica” with their origins in the Sloe and Myrobalan plum, and other species of Eastern European origin. Some well known varieties include Early Laxton, Early Prolific, Purple Pershore, Victoria, Czar and Marjorie Seedling. For the home cook and artisan, they provide a rich source of ingredients for Jams, Jellies, Sauces, Chutneys and Drinks. This year, Sarah Churchill from The Artisan Kitchen in Gloucestershire achieved the ultimate Great Taste Awards three gold stars for her Blaisdon Red Plum Jam.
Most years, we have good crops of Purple Pershore, Early Prolific and Victoria plums. Plums vary in pectin, acid and flavour. In my early years of preserving, a friend gave me a large bag of Pershore Yellow Egg. They did not make the best jam or jelly. These days, I favour Early Rivers and Purple Pershore for jam or chutney and Victorias for cooking and occasionally chutney. Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course has two of the best, traditional chutney recipes using plums; “Spiced Plum Chutney” and “Old Doverhouse Chutney.”
Plums need careful picking, to avoid bruising or splitting the skins. If plums are for eating, pick only when they are fully ripe. For cooking and preserving, pick plums slightly under ripe. This year, the exceptional good weather during the summer months accelerated the ripening of plums and cooking apples. Some experimentation with plums, windfall apples and homegrown basil has produced this new recipe for a plum jam.
Plum, Apple and Basil Jam
Makes about 2.25kg (5lb)
1kg plums ( halved and stoned prepared weight)
1kg cooking apples ( peeled, cored and sliced prepared weight)
60g basil, tied in muslin as a bag
1.4kg granulated cane sugar
1) Place the prepared fruit and muslin bag in a large preserving pan and add the water. Slowly bring the pan to the boil, and reduce it to a very gentle simmer until the contents of the pan are pulpy and reduced by a half.
2) Warm the sugar in an ovenproof bowl in a low oven, 140C (275F/Gas1) for 20 minutes. Remove the sugar from the oven and put clean jars in the oven for 15 minutes.
3) Add the sugar to the pan and stir until it has dissolved. Bring the jam to a rolling boil and boil hard until setting point is reached. Test for a set after 5 minutes using the flake, cold plate or thermometer test. As soon as setting point is reached, remove the pan from the heat and leave it to stand for a few minutes. Remove any scum with a metal spoon.
4) Gently stir the jam and pour it into the jars, up to the brim. Seal the jars immediately with new twist top lids. Leave the jars upright and undisturbed to cool and set.