Tuesday, 15 September 2009

How wild are your plums?

I am a fair-weather forager. My foraging usually takes place on sunny days in autumn when there is such a profusion of wild fruits that it seems almost rude to overlook them. More often than not I pick blackberries to make into the apple and blackberry compote I have eaten every autumn since I was a small child. This year a Wiltshire walk took me alongside an ancient piece of woodland butting on to a chalk escarpment. As we jogged down the steep, closely cropped hillside several plum trees stretched out their branches beseechingly, as if longing to be relieved of the burden of their dark purple fruits. We converted an old jumper into a bag and brought back a couple of kilos of fruit. To these I added some cultivated damsons.

Wild plums or bullace have very dark purple fruits, the damson is a cultivated species derived from the bullace. According to Richard Mabey most plums you find growing in the wild are seeded from garden or orchard specimens of other varieties that have reverted. Are the plums I gathered in the wood wilder than the damsons derived from wild plums gathered in the garden? I don’t know but I do know that they will make a very deeply flavoured sour sweet jam that is reminiscent of Iranian and Persian sour jams. You’ll find it sets beautifully as wild plums contain a lot of natural pectin.

Wild plum jam

2.5 kg ripe wild plums (blemished or damaged fruit discarded)

1kg natural unbleached granulated sugar (if you can put it in an airing cupboard for an hour or two before you make the jam you’ll find it will dissolve quicker).

Pick over the fruit, discarding any that are over ripe or blemished. Place the fruit in a colander and pour over cold water. Drain the fruit well. Place the fruit in a large preserving pan and bring to the boil.

Cook the fruit until soft. Check that the skins are soft as they will not get any softer once the sugar is added.

Whilst the fruit is boiling skim off any stones as they rise to the surface. This may sound a little aggravating but you’ll find it’s one of those fiddly jobs that becomes rather soothing in a meditative way once you start doing it, a bit like weeding your garden.

Add the sugar stirring continuously until it is completely dissolved. Bring the jam to the boil and cook quickly but not to vigorously (you don’t want your jam to catch). Start testing the jam after ten minutes as the setting point can be reached quite early. I use the flake test (see below).

When the setting point has been reached, pour the jam into sterilised jars, seal with discs of waxed paper and keep in a cool, dark place.

The flake test (for jelly)

Collect some jelly with a wooden spoon and then, holding it horizontally over the sink, let the jelly cool a little before tipping the spoon. If the jelly hangs down slightly pendulously and hesitates for a few seconds before dropping off, it is ready.

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