Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Jackpot of Plums

Photo halved Italian plums in a stainless steel bowl. https://trimazing.com/

#VeganMoFo18 Day 12 - A Jackpot of Plums

Please note, this post is meant as an overview of canning and dehydrating plums and does not replace or represent itself to be an official guide for proper canning at home. It is important to consult safe canning resources, which are listed at the end of this post.

Photo of a plastic crate of Italian plums along the side of the road with a sign that says "FREE Italian Plums" next to it. https://trimazing.com/
Free plums along the side of the road!
My friend Pam has dubbed me the "Queen of Free." I don't know why, but I seem to always happen to run across wonderful free items, either from my local "Buy Nothing" group, other groups on Facebook, a neighbor, or out in the wild along the side of the ride. It really is quite uncanny! Getting things for free is a great zero waste activity, as is giving or donating things yourself.

Two weeks ago, as I was returning home from dropping off a donation at the Senior Center Thrift Store, I noticed a sign on the side of the road that read, "FREE Italian Plums." Well, I turned my car right around and headed back to check it out! The plums were gorgeous, so I grabbed one of my reusable grocery bags and loaded up (yes, I did leave some for others, the photo is proofthat's what's left and the box wasn't even full when I got there)!

I've not worked a lot with plums in the past, but my Grandmother used to make the best plum jam. Actually, I never had any other plum jam, but I loved her plum jam better than any other jam in the world. Oddly, I never learned how she made it, she just always gifted it to us. Being that she lived hours away, making jam wasn't ever anything we did together. The thing I remember the most was that she used to seal her jars of jam with paraffin wax, and it was always my favorite thing to be the one who got to open a new jar of plum jam, pop out the seal with a butter knife, and get to lick the jam off the hardened wax! Crazy how seeing a box of free plums brought that memory flying back!

Photo of chopped Italian plums in a Ulu bowl board with a Ulu knife. https://trimazing.com/
Chopped plums using my Ulu
Sadly, my grandmother passed away several years ago so I didn't have her as a resource for a recipe. I knew I wanted to have a low-sugar version, and found a recipe in the Kraft SURE-JELL recipe database to try. This one has half the sugar of their normal recipe and is still really sweet. It calls for ripe plums, water, sugar, SURE-JELL For Less or No Sugar Needed Recipes Premium Fruit Pectin, and butter (I omitted the butter, as I'll explain below). It is important to note that if you are going to use no or reduce sugar in a jam or jelly recipe, you need to use no- or reduced-sugar pectin, not regular pectin. A regular pectin needs high sugar to set, whereas no- or reduced-sugar pectin uses calcium to help form a gel.

Photo cooked-down Italian plums in a stock pot. https://trimazing.com/
Cooked-down plums
You start by finely chopping or grinding your plums. I decided to chop by hand as it gave me a reason to use the Ulu knife I don't get to use that often. You then bring the chopped fruit and water to a boil. My fruit hadn't cooked down as much as I liked at this point so I hit it with an immersion blender for a few pulses until it was the texture I wanted. Then you add some sugar and pectin. The directions say to add butter at this point to reduce foaming, but my mixture didn't foam. I wasn't going to add butter in any case, to keep it vegan and oil-free, and simply planned to skim off whatever foam that formedturns out it wasn't necessary anyway.  The mixture is returned to a full boil before adding the remainder of the sugar. You boil this final mixture for one minute and ladle into prepared half-pint jars. These get processed 10 minutes, unless you are at higher elevation, so you can pre-sterilize your jars in the dishwasher.

The jam is delicious! It so reminds me of my grandmother's jam. Alan had never had plum jam before and he was very impressed. It reminds him of strawberry jam, for some reason!

Photo of halved toasted Ezekiel bread spread with plum jam on a plate with plums. Accompanied by jars of plum jam and a wooden jam knife. https://trimazing.com/
Plum jam is delicious on toast!

Making Prunes


I still had quite of few plums leftover. So I decided to turn the rest of them into dried prunes. I used the Ball® Blue Book® Guide to Preserving and my Preserve it Naturally book from my Excalibur dehydrator as guidance on drying the plums into prunes.

Photo of process of flattening out plums to dry. Photo taken over already flattened plums arranced on a grid dehydrator tray. https://trimazing.com/
Flattening out plums
After cutting the plums in half and pulling out the pit, you need to flatten the half plum by holding it in your fingers, skin-side-down, and pushing the center up from the underneath side while pulling the cut edges down. This increases the surface area for drying. They kind of crack, but lay flat this way.

Then you dry at 145-degrees Fahrenheit for two hours and then reduce to 110-degrees for the remainder of the time until they are at your desired dryness. I flipped them partway through.

Photo of dried prunes on grid dehydrator tray. Some are skin-side up, others are flesh-side up. https://trimazing.com/
Dried prunes, both sides shown
The prunes turned out great! I keep them in the refrigerator in a mason jar because I think they keep better that way. They are chewy and sweet and while they are more yellow than prunes you buy in the store, they taste just like them. I love eating prunes and look forward to having them during the winter.








Resources


There are some great resources available for home canning. Internet resources are fantastic as they are generally most up to date. There are some standby books, but remember to get new ones every few years to be current with updated guidelines.




My Vegan and Whole Food Plant-Based Canning Facebook Group

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