August 30, 2011

The wonderful Washington State Fruit Producers sent me a present last week. As a Canbassador, they sent me 20 lbs. of perfect plums and 10 lbs. of gorgeous nectarines from the Yakima Valley and asked me to can away. What a glorious bounty with which to face a hurricane. This is the first post reporting on my #hurricanning adventures. (P.S. Thank you, Charlotte, for that brilliant hashtag. I’ve preordered the new cookbook you wrote with Anita Lo. So happy for you!)

Let’s talk about these plums. This plum variety is often generically referred to as Italian Prune Plums, but in Alsace and the Rhine Valley, where we recently vacationed, they are called Quetsch (or Qwetsch.) When we visited Christine Ferber’s little shop in Niedermorschwihr, Alsace, France, I swear I smelled the honey sweet smell of plums wafting from the kitchen. It’s a teeny town of narrow streets and overflowing window boxes, well up into the Vosges mountains, nestled in the midst of vineyards and orchards.

Patient husband waiting outside the adorable shop of Christine Ferber.

Dennis was a great sport, and put up with my need to make the pilgrimage to her shop.

I wandered around taking it all in, purchased a few jars of jam, some honey, and this gorgeous copper ladle. (It’s not only gorgeous, but one ladle-ful is exactly enough jam to fill a 1/2 pint  jar to 1/4″ headspace! I want to hug it.) I also picked up two small cookbooks (in French) with beautiful photos and more wonderful flavor combinations. The adorable shop assistant asked me if I wanted them autographed and so I have SIGNED COPIES! But, sadly Madame did not come out of the kitchen. (sob) I decided not to take it personally. So, Christine Ferber’s books were definitely the inspiration for my day of plummy preservation.

The first thing I did was taste. I haven’t talked about this much, but I consider it one of the most important parts of preserving. Taste your product. Is it very sweet? Tart? Adjust your choices for sweeteners based on the fruit. Honey adds depth to flat-tasting fruit. Maple syrup will round out tartness. Brown sugar tastes like caramel. And white sugar elevates.

The plums were tart when firm and bright green inside, but the flavor honeyed and the color turned more golden as they ripened. (Ok. I ate three. Not one. Research.)

I was a little overwhelmed with the bounty, so decided to make Slivovitz immediately. Needed that sense of accomplishment FAST. And then I ate a few more plums.



Slivovitz is a plum schnapps or brandy made all across Eastern Europe, and under different names, in Germany, France and Italy. It’s made in home kitchens with whatever plum is local. It’s sharp and strong and beautiful. It will take three months to develop, and will be well appreciated at the holidays. An important quality in the final product is derived from the pit, so don’t pit your fruit first. Also, choose perfect, unblemished fruit. You’ll need about 2-1/2 pounds for a half gallon jar.

With a sharp paring knife, pierce the fruit right through to the pit. Do this three or four times with each plum, examining each one for perfection. Bruised fruit is not appropriate for slivovitz. (Put it in your rumtopf.)

Pack the fruit into a jar, add 1-1/2 cups of sugar, one cinnamon stick, and two slivers of lemon peel. Pour cheap vodka over the entire thing until the plums are covered. Cap the jar.

Every day for two weeks, turn the jar over. I put the jar in a bowl, as it invariably leaks, then pour the contents of the bowl back into the jar. It’s messy, but worth it. At the end of two weeks, the sugar should have dissolved.

Then, put the jar in a closet and forget it until December (total time is three months.) When it’s ready, strain through a coffee filter, fill pretty bottles, and offer it up in small glasses with cookies.


Barely made a dent in the bowl. I made a small batch of Alsatian Quetsch Jam from Mes Confitures. It’s gorgeous and tastes amazing.

And I only had 15 pounds to go. I ate some more plums and a couple of nectarines. And pondered flavorings. I wanted conserve, a preserves that always includes nuts and sometimes dried fruit. I had missed making any conserves last year, and a cheese platter really benefits from this condiment, especially for texture.

While in Breisach, Germany, on the Rhine river, I wandered into a fabulous farmer’s market. The foods were beautiful and especially the plums – green gage and mirabelle, two exceptional varieties.

I had a goofy conversation with a farmer – he in German and me in English and French – and somehow managed to tell him about my jam-making adventures. We talked cherries, the season had just ended, and he ushered me over to a small table with his homemade schnapps – Sour Cherry – and conveyed his pride in having won a local prize. This was the flavor that called out to be combined with sweet dried plums.


Fresh and Dried Quetsch Conserve with Walnuts and Sauer-kirsch Brand
from Mes Confitures with a slight adaptation
Makes 4 half-pints plus some extra

2-1/2 lbs. quetsch plums, washed, pitted and halved
2-1/2 lbs. quetsch plums, oven dried*, pitted and halved
3-3/4 c sugar
Juice of one lemon
Juice of one orange
1 c walnut meats, broken by hand
3 T Sauer-kirsch or kirsch

*Put whole plums on a baking tray in a 140° oven and make some prunes. Ten hours later, they will be just beginning to wrinkle and the flavor will have changed completely to something sweeter, denser, and plummy-er. The texture is slightly chewy. Let them cool a bit, then slit in half and pit.

In a large glass or ceramic bowl, combine the fresh plums with the sugar and lemon and orange juice and allow the mixture to sit for an hour. Scrape out the bowl into a preserving pan and heat slowly until the sugar is dissolved. Put the mixture back into a glass or ceramic bowl, cover with parchment and macerate overnight.

The next day, combine the dried plums with the plum mixture, then strain it well over the preserving pan, allowing the syrup to drain through for awhile, as it is very thick.

Heat the syrup to 220°, add back the plums, and bring back up to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly and gently. When it returns to the boil, add the walnuts and kirsch, then cook and test for set.

Ladle into half pint jars, place lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.


The pile of plums still seemed insurmountable. And pretty. I thought about sugar plums, and decided to do a variation on that theme.


Whole Boozy Plums for Christmas
Makes 3 pints

4 lbs. quetsch plums, pierced three or four times with a sharp knife
2 c water
1-1/2 c sugar
9 allspice berries
9 Tbls. ROOT liqueur (or any brandy)

Make a simple syrup with the water, sugar and allspice. Bring to a boil, boil hard for five minutes, add the whole plums, return to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover, and allow the mixture to sit for 30 minutes.

Prepare your jars. Add three tablespoons of ROOT or brandy to each jar. Add the plums and syrup, leaving 1/2″ headspace.

Process the jars in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes. Allow them to rest in a dark place for at least a month.


Another 6 lbs. to go. Or so I thought. I weighed the remainder and was a little appalled to realize I had eaten three pounds of plums. With the last three pounds of plums in front of me, I pondered pinot noir. And cabernet. And merlot. And all the wines that we call plummy.

Then I thought about the other notes in those wines – pepper and spices. And that took me to chai. And from there, this conserve was born.


Chai Spiced Plum Conserve with Toasted Hazelnuts and Balsamic
Makes 6 half pints

1/2 tsp cardamom seeds (from green cardamom pods)
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp black peppercorns, about 8
1/2 tsp anise seed
1 tsp black tea
3 lbs. quetsch plums, washed, pitted and quartered
3-1/2 c. sugar
Juice of one lemon
1-1/2 c toasted skinned hazelnuts, rough chopped**
1 T aged balsamic (I used a syrupy fig balsamic)

In a small skillet, dry toast the spices and tea until fragrant. Transfer to a coffee grinder or using a mortar and pestle, and grind the cardamom, bay, anise, peppercorns and tea to a powder.

In a large glass or ceramic bowl, stir together the plums, sugar, spices, and lemon juice and allow them to macerate for one hour.

Bring the mixture to a boil in a preserving pan, then return to the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, over your preserving pan, pour the mixture into a sieve. Set the fruit aside and bring the syrup t0 220°.

Add back the fruit, return the mixture to a boil, add the hazelnuts and balsamic.  Boil hard, then check the set.

Ladle into jars, place lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.


**Toast hazelnuts in a 350°F oven for about 15 minutes, until fragrant. Wrap the hot hazelnuts in a soft cotton kitchen towel and rub them vigorously until the skins come off. This takes elbow grease!

Thank you to the Washington State Fruit Commission for the gorgeous fruit and all the opportunities for inspiration.

plum perfect. four preserving projects on Punk Domestics

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41 Responses to “plum perfect. four – or more – preserving projects.”

  1. Cecilia

    How lucky go get Madame Ferber to sign your copies! How glorious was her little shop? Would love to visit it one day. Cathy, your canning adventures are truly inspiring. I would have never attempted to ever can anything had it not been because I read your encouraging posts! The Chai Spiced Plum Conserve looks luscious!

  2. Christine

    So funny that you started off with making booze! Love it. But then there is just boozy plums, and then plums with Kirsch. I dare say, Mrs. Wheelbarrow, that you pickle your eaters as well as you pickle your produce!!

    That said, I think I need some of the peach liqueur that you gave me last year. It will go very nicely with the peaches I just grilled!

  3. Janis

    I wanna cry I am so frustrated. The plums here are awful. All I have at this point is a ton of concord grapes that are just turning purple :–(

    Amazing stuff here Missy!

    • Dee G

      Don’t cry. Eugenia Bone has a fabulous conserve of concord grapes and walnuts in her book “Well Preserved” plus a couple of ways to use it. I highly recommend that book for interesting small batch combinations.

  4. Winnie

    Oh my gosh…what a glorious post! Have not done anything with plums yet this year but love these ideas. I did not realize Christine Ferber had a shop…how wonderful you got to visit!

  5. Linda Langness

    I love this blog! You take us through your entire thought process of inspiration and motivation for each recipe. I love to hear how people move from taste to thought to taste again and produce such wonderful flavors and products. I have a good friend who does that very well and I love cooking side by side with him. Thank you! I want to make all of it.

    I tried to make plums canned in simple syrup one summer: three kinds, yellow, Italian prune, and green gage. Unfortunately, they didn’t hold up. So, I emptied one whole jar in a bowl, took out the pits, added the right amount of cream and made ice cream! It was really, really good! In fact, I have one jar left so I may have to buy some cream right now!

  6. Cathy

    Thank you, everyone. It was a ton of fun. Linda, I didn’t think the plums would hold for long – thank you for telling me. I’ll enjoy them soon. Or make ice cream! (Genius)

  7. Val

    Because Fine Cooking’s prune plum cobbler with cardamom is one of my all time favorite desserts, last summer I made plum preserves with cardamom. This summer I did a lovely plum jam with lemon verbena.
    I have tried slivovitz, but I tasted nothing reminiscent of plum–only fire!

  8. Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite

    #Plumapalooza!!!! SO glad we made the pilgrimage to Ferber too, although it was bloody hard to find! Tiny signage!! I have nearly the exact same picture from the store (plus, ahem, about 6 jars of that jam sitting in front of me with nowhere to go as our house is a disaster-construction zone!). No recipe books for me (to add to the already 8 I had in my bag at that point…) but I will continue to follow your adventures with her books and maybe might end up getting one myself. We had a Quetsch tree in our house in Colmar and made the Abby Dodge fruit cake with them. Unbelievably good. I can only imagine how they tasted chez Wheelbarrow!

  9. Barbara | Creative Culinary

    I hope your wonderful husband enjoyed his spot…that photo is just the quintessential image of what I imagine of a quaint village in France.

    I just love plums…all of this sounds wonderful Cathy. That first photo. Perfect.

  10. LiztheChef

    Great post – love that you visited CF’s shoppe, not that I knew she had one. In a way, it is kind of cool that she was so busy in her kitchen that she signed your books but couldn’t walk away from her “jamming”. We have all been there, right?

  11. A Canadian Foodie

    Lovely post Mrs. W!
    Is it legal to make plum brandy in your neck of the woods. I love your recipe, your style and the bounty of ideas in this one post!
    My husband is from the Balkans and I have seen a few stils doing their thing over there in my day. WHoo – baby! That stuff is brain remover. No doubt about it…. but it smells so lovely! Your version is an entirely different thing; however, and I love the idea. YUM!
    So many good ideas here, today!

  12. Kimmy

    Oh wow. I finally found some local plums last week, and I can’t get enough. I have to try the chai conserves. Thank you for all the ideas!

    • Jayne

      Well I asked a silly question, some research on my part has shown that damsons are just right! Thanks once again for the inspiration!

  13. Mia

    I went to my favorite orchard yesterday and bought a peck of the quetsch plums. Than I stopped at another orchard on the way home and bought another peck of seconds of mixed plums. I have already turned 2 quarts of the seconds into a plum jam that was cooked with bay leaves.

    I have 2-1/2 pounds of the quetsch plums in the oven to dry them, But just an FYI, an electric oven’s lowest temperature is 170.

    I am going to take recipe on local kitchen’s blog for nectarine, pear, & chili jam and switch into plum, peach & chili jam instead. I think plums and chilis have a natural affinity to each other.

  14. Hannah

    We just drove through the Yakima Valley on our way home and the orchards are beautiful! What a fabulous gift you received and I love what you created with it.

  15. Sara

    OK, I love that you made slivovice…this is the drink my grandpa used to “test” my dad (his future son-in-law) when they were first introduced by my mom. I have had occasion to try many homemade versions when I was travelling in E. Europe as well. I would love to get some prune plums for baking E. European treats too but they are so hard to find. Meanwhile, that Ferber trip looks pretty amazing…nice souvenirs!

  16. Sara

    I’m sort of freaked out by not refrigerating the slivovice as it cures (plus I don’t think I have the “cool place” these things usually require–no basement here!) Can I put it in the fridge?

    • Cathy

      Hi Sara, Don’t be freaked out. It’s all booze and sugar in there. There is nothing that will go bad. But if refrigerated, the necessary fermentation won’t happen. Back of a closet is probably cool enough.

  17. Mom

    Read your slivovitz recipe in last week’s Wash Post Food section, started a batch today, then found your blog! Question – the Post’s recipe called for 4 cups vodka; I managed only 2 1/2 cups in a half gallon jar. That should be okay, right? Perhaps more plummy that way? Or should I transfer to to a gallon jar and have all that airspace? Also, what kind of cardamom have you used with it before – green, black, or white? the whole pod or just the seeds? Love the sound of the extra spice. Thanks bunches.

  18. Eva

    I have several bottles of your “slivovitz” in my closet, waiting for December. After I drain off the liquer, will be plums be edible, or will the taste be pretty much leached out? Should I be planning recipes to use up the plums, which I assume will have to be refrigerated and used pretty quickly without their embalming fluid? I’m thinking miniature shortcakes, cut in half, and filled with lemon custard or a lemon curd mousse, and a few slivers of plum for little shortcake sliders…

  19. anna saint john

    the chai spiced plum conserve is epically awesome! it’s so mysterious. at the time of prep i didn’t have cardamom (odd!) so i dashed out and got a bottle of ground. for a 1.5x recipe, i added 1/2 teaspoon. i used 1 whole star anise, since i stock that and not anise seed. i used the innards from 2 twining’s prince of wales tea bags. and because the bay leaf i use is fresh (a/k/a the money tree), i put in 5 fresh leaves and took them out just before i buzzed the fruit with the immersion blender. then i folded in the hazelnuts (smashed and sifted), a titch more pepper and cardamom and bottled that magic stuff. yesterday, 10 more pounds of plums were procured — y’know, just in case! many thanx.

  20. Heather Fitzmorris

    Hi, thank you for the great plum recipes, I had a question on the Slivovitz, I put it together yesterday with green gauge plumbs, organic sugar, cinnamon stick, lemon peel and vodka. The sugar dissolved overnight, I looked at it this morning and the lids were bulbed up so I opened them and the contents was bubbling out the sides like it was becoming carbonated? Is this normal or a sign it is bad? Thank you!!!

    • Cathy Barrow

      Hi Heather, I’ve never used green gage plums for slivovitz — only the Italian style prune plums. I’m guessing the sugar content in the green gage might be different because it sounds like you’ve got a fermentation going there! The recipe is an infusion which shouldn’t actually ferment. The only thing I can guess is the type of plum changed the chemistry.

  21. Susan Webb

    We have just been learning about Italian prune plums. Our favorite orchard has them, but not for u-pick anymore. This year the prune plums were pre-picked to sell. Each household could purchase 2 each 8 qt baskets So everyone would get some. My husband made wine but needs more than 16 qts. I’ve not made ham or jelly. Could you please tell me where to find a good recipe? BTW, everyone buying Italian prune plums were not speaking English; they were Ukrainian immigrants that live locally. I wish I had some of their recipes!

  22. Sarah Britton

    Made the chai preserves and it is a huge hit with all my friends. We live near Rogue Creamery in Central Point Oregon and their blue cheese beat out the French last year and won for best cheese in the world! And it’s right in my backyard! Anyway, a simple cracker, a smear of the blue cheese and the chai preserve is absolutely heaven. It’s worth the time to peel the skins from the hazelnuts. There is always about 20% that just won’t peel so next time I will buy more than I need and then save those to be eaten out of hand. I also amped up the spices to 1.5X and liked it better. I cut open good English breakfast tea bags. The spice grinder did an excellent job of pulverizing everything, even the bay leaves. I boiled it at the end until it was REALLY angry and the texture is perfect. Make sure you toast your hazelnuts until a lovely light brown but not more. Too little and they don’t taste hazelnutty enough and too much and they will impart a burnt bitter taste. I do mine in the toaster oven.



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