For the last few weeks, the deep purple elongated prune plums have been hanging out quietly on the farmer’s market tables. I always buy a big bag and think of the things I’ll make. Cakes mainly, of all varieties – upside down, almond batter, brown sugar glazed but maybe also a lovely French inspired custard tart, studded with a shingle of plum slices that ooze their crimson juices in the oven. My enthusiasm, though great, is often tempered by my ability to lose track of things. While I keep a running inventory in my head, I am often distracted, miscalculating the time I actually have available to make such things. I also have this fabulous habit of forgetting where I put things. I’m telling you, those refrigerator produce drawers are a hazard. It’s a wormhole in there. With the latest plums, I made a skillet cake and promptly forgot that I stashed the rest in that damn drawer, next to the miso I’ll never get around to using but keep because maybe, I just might. A week later, I found those plums in surprisingly good shape with a heady aroma but they needed to be used pronto. A small amount of jam or fruit butter was in my near future.
So here’s the thing about canning in my life. I adore putting things in jars and stocking my shelves with brightly colored treasures. It brings out a pioneer spirit in me obviously cultivated from another era. Must be my thrifty immigrant ancestors but ever since I learned how to make jams and pickles, I look at everything with a different eye. There is, however, a downside to this self-sufficiency. I have so damn much of it. I am only one person yet I have jam for hundreds. My pantry shelves are stocked to the gills, more than I can possibly use. You know when you google “recipes that use massive quantities of jam” you have a problem.
Despite what all the food magazines and websites will have you believe, you can only give so much away. I’m sorry to tell you the hard truth: they are lying. Jam does not always make the perfect hostess gift. You’re better off hearing this from me but I have a theory on giving away jars of homemade treats. For every five people that say they love your homemade jam, four of them are lying. Not in a mean spirited way just in a “oh god I can’t possibly take another jar from her” kind of way. You need to know this to avoid becoming THAT person so I’m going to tell you how to determine who those friends are. Next time you’re at their house, subtly snoop in the pantry and cabinets and the refrigerator door. To avoid detection, because you really can’t outright ask, come up with some weak excuses like looking for a glass or a can opener or the sriracha (everyone has sriracha and it can be anywhere, right?) Are those jars from 3 years ago still lurking about? Stop. These are those friends. Immediately take them off the list forever. They will never tell you, they’re far to kind, so just stop. And make smaller batches.
Like this recipe that only makes two small jars. This is enough for just you and maybe one other person whose been thoroughly vetted and is receptive. Reminder: never foist your creations, no matter how delicious, on the other group of friends. Unless it’s chocolate. (Rules don’t apply to chocolate for obvious reasons.) Two jars that won’t overwhelm the end of the world stockpile you’re unintentionally building in the basement. In fact, you have to eat these now as they’re not shelf stable. Just two jars that will sit in your refrigerator door for a few weeks and be eaten on the morning toast with little fuss.
The original recipe came from an issue of Martha Stewart Living at some point that I’ve tweaked a bit over the years. Oh Martha. She probably made it from heritage plums from 100-year-old trees on her Connecticut compound. Do not feel guilty and fall into the Martha trap. I think we’re all over that by now, right? Martha and her heirloom plants and massive canning projects and just as massive staff to help and clean up the mess. I don’t have a staff and neither do you (I assume. If you do, well done.) I bet she has friends that roll their eyes too when she shows up with beribboned canning jars. I know she does.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: TWO KINDS OF HAPPINESS. First the satisfaction of making something wonderful and putting it in a jar for later is immense. It satisfies the inner Betty Crocker in us all, no question. But the small batch quality is equally wonderful – easy, manageable, do-able. No need to off load or feel guilty that jars will just sit only to be toss in the garbage later on. Just pure enjoyment. To sit in a sunny window and eat a piece of toast with a schmear of plum butter that you made? Get outta here.
Other plum recipes: Plum Upside Down Cake, Deep Dish Plum Almond Tart, Plum Kuchen
Six years ago: Sour Cream Coffeecake
Five years ago: Blueberry Raspberry Cobbler
Four years ago: Plum Kuchen
Three years ago: Bastille Day Lunch – Figgy BBQ Sauce
Two years ago: Roasted Ratatouille with Sweet Corn Polenta
Last year: Aunt Patti’s Cornbread
SMALL BATCH SPICED PLUM BUTTER
makes 2 half pints
1 ½ pounds plums; empress, Italian prune or santa rosa
½ cup + 2 Tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
pinch of kosher salt
- Day before: Split plums in half, remove pits and cut into 1” pieces. Do not peel.
- Place in a large, lidded container and combine the cut plums with the sugar, stirring well.
- Cover and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours, stirring once or twice if you remember. If not, no biggie. Due to scheduling issues, I have left this in the refrigerator for an additional day with no problems.
- Day of: Place your jars in a large pot with water to cover by 1”.
- Bring to a boil for 10 minutes to sterilize then turn off the heat, add the lids/rings to the water and leave until needed. (If you have a dishwasher, you can run them through so they’re nice and hot and skip the pot/boil thing.)
- Transfer the plum mixture to a large saucepan.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until fruit is very soft, about 20 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Remove from heat and puree the fruit. An immersion blender works best (and with less to wash later) but a food mill, blender or food processor works too – just take care pureeing hot liquids.
- Return the puree to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, until thick enough to spread. Depending on how much your mixture reduced on the initial cooking, this could take 5-15 minutes.
- Remove from heat.
- When you’re ready to fill the jars, lay a lint free towel on the counter and transfer the jars and rings/lids from the hot water (or dishwasher) to the towel to drain.
- Turn the jars right side up and ladle the hot plum butter into the warm jars, leaving ½” headspace.
- With a slightly damp paper towel, wipe the jar rims clean.
- Place the lids on and lightly screw on the rings (“finger tight”).
- The plum butter isn’t acidic enough to be safely shelf stable but will keep refrigerated for several weeks.