After lunch on Saturday afternoon, we spontaneously decided to go apple-picking with friends. But when we got to the U-pick orchard just outside of Berlin, we discovered that the apple variety we'd set out to pick, Pinova, wasn't ready yet. Other varieties of apples, pears, and plums were ready, so we contented ourselves with those. Now I have several kilos of each in my kitchen; the pears still need a few weeks of ripening, the apples are delicious and crunchy out of hand, but the plums, well, those have already been turned into jam. Quick work!
I love making jam - apple butter in falll, Seville orange in winter, blueberry-lime (make sure to reduce the sugar a bit) in summer - but this year, the cookbook work kept me from any jam-making. I figured I wouldn't much miss my little pots and jars in the pantry that much and contented myself with store-bought jams instead, but they were always too sweet and insipid compared to the things I made myself. (The jam I most regret skipping was the Seville orange marmalade, which when homemade is so incredibly superior to anything you can buy - even fancy, high-quality brands - that I have sworn to myself that even though our baby is due right before Seville orange season, I'm not going to skip it again this year. Wish me luck! I'm pretty sure I will be cursing this resolution in early February when I'm knee-deep in nipple cream and sleep deprivation.) So I'm back at the jam-making station now, easing myself in with Damson plums, a supremely satisfying and easy fruit to preserve.
Damson plums are high in pectin, which means that when cooked with sugar they thicken and gel beautifully without any added help. They're also easy to pit, which makes them very appealing to work with, especially when you're confronted with 4 kilos of them after not even half an hour spent in the plum orchard. I turned half of my Damsons into Pflaumenmus, a thick plum butter spiced with cinnamon and cloves that is also known as Powidl in Austria and is an essential element in the German and Austrian kitchen. An easy and reliable recipe for Pflaumenmus is in both My Berlin Kitchen and Classic German Baking. Traditional Pflaumenmus is actually made without any sugar at all, but your plums must be very ripe and sweet for it to turn out nicely. Since the ones I had were still quite firm and sweet-tart, I used my recipe, which contains sugar.
For the remaining of my Damsons, I turned to a recipe from Kevin West, the author of Saving the Season. West cooks his Damsons with bay leaves and ginger first, then forces them through a sieve (I used an immersion blender instead), adding the sugar and lemon juice only at this point before finishing the cooking. West is a genius with flavorings; he seems to have an uncanny sense of which herbs and spices pair best with fruit to bring out their best flavors. To my taste, his jams are often too sweet, so I reduced the sugar in the Damson butter, but you might find you prefer a sweeter jam, as he does. The ginger and bay give the plum butter a gentle fillip of spice and savoriness, but not too much of one. This is still a fruit butter that will do gloriously on a piece of morning buttered toast.
As soon as the pears are ready to go, I'm going to be turning to this fantastic and inspiring little book for my next batch of fruit butter, a silky concoction of pears, apples and maple syrup. I'm trolling the markets for the season's very last plum tomatoes so I can make Kevin's savory tomato jam with smoked paprika (!). And like I said, I'm counting the weeks until Seville orange season. I can't wait to have a pantry full of homemade treats again.
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Kevin West's Damson Butter
Adapted from Saving the Season
Note: If you would prefer to preserve your Damson butter the American way, once the jars are filled and tightly closed, process them in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Marisa McLellan is an excellent resource on this subject. I do not process any of my jams in this way. The cooking time, the relatively high sugar levels, the high acidity of the fruit, the spotlessly clean jars, and the upside-down cooling method, which gives the jars an airtight seal, are enough for me and all European jam-makers I know.
4 pounds Damson plums, pitted
1/2 cup water
2 bay leaves
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled
2 cups sugar (the original recipe calls for 3 1/4 cups)
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1. Put the fruit, water, bay and ginger in a large, heavy pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Take the pot off the heat and remove the bay and ginger (discard). Using an immersion blender, purée the plums until smooth. Add the sugar and lemon juice and stir well.
3. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce to low and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring. Take the pot off the heat and ladle the hot butter into spotlessly clean or sterilized jars. Immediately cap the jars and turn them over upside-down to cool completely. The jars will keep, unopened, for a year. Once open, the Damson butter should be consumed within a few weeks.