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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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