Making Plum Jam and Memories

Blessed with plums, the question becomes what to do with them. I’ve already made a tart and a crumble, and am still looking a bowl full of beautifully ripe fruit.

Something is nagging at me, a memory of my mother’s kitchen the fruit that she picked earlier that morning waiting in baskets for whatever was to become of them. Sometimes she canned the whole fruit, sometimes she made jam, jelly or preserves. In a flash, I am snapped into 1968 – a red, yellow and black kitchen, cabinets made by my grandfather from precious American Chestnut, jars sterilizing in a pot. Through some kind of magic, the plums were pressed through a food mill, the flesh and juice pouring out of the holes in the bottom while the seeds and skins stayed in the top. She cooked this, added some sugar, and waited. I remembered the way she carefully skimmed off the foamy top and poured spoonfuls of the mixture into saucers, giving them a spin and a turn to test for something – gelling maybe?

I could ask her, but she would just want to do it herself and she isn’t able to anymore. Aided by my trusty Fannie Farmer Cookbook, I get the basics for making jam, although plum isn’t specifically mentioned. I can do it, I tell myself.

Years ago, when I wanted to make persimmon pudding for Thanksgiving, she gave me her duplicate food mill, so I get my pulp and juice and measure it out. It seems that I have five heaping cups. Fannie says to boil the juice for five minutes, add 3/4 cup of sugar per cup of juice or fruit and boil for another ten to thirty minutes or until the jam reaches the gelling stage. She says I won’t need pectin as fresh fruit has it in the skin. Okay.

I will need jars and lids and rings, which I find – left over from Thanksgiving cranberry sauce concoction – and I’m ready!

The mixture boils, but the color is off. It doesn’t look like I remember. Where is the bright, jewel tone, fuschia-ruby that I recall? I stay with it anyway and add the sugar as specified. Ten to thirty minutes of boiling is a big wide space of time. What if I undercook or overcook? Will it be runny or globby?

After ten minutes, I skim the foam, pour some into a saucer and still have no idea what I am suppose to see. It tastes good but is a little tart. I add another 3/4 cup of sugar and instantly see the difference. The color is forming magnificently and the whole pot thickens. Whether it is the extra cooking time or the extra sugar, I can’t say. But when I taste it, it is perfect. Just the hint of tartness with all of the juicy sweetness of the nectar of the summer plums! Oh my!

I have had a pot of water steaming on a back burner and sterilize jars, then ladle the jam into them, wipe the tops, dip the lids into the water with a pair of tongs and screw them onto the jars with the rings. I’ve done it. I’ve made the jam!

Ping! Ping! As I sit writing this, the lids are sealing. Something else I remember from childhood. My mother’s satisfied smile when the jars sealed, her complete aggravation if one or more didn’t. I always secretly hoped at least one wouldn’t. Then we would could eat it right away instead of storing it away in the basement for winter.

I’m quite proud of myself. I didn’t just preserve my fruit or make jam, I actually relived a memory from my youth. Funny how much I recalled while stirring the pot and skimming the foam. I remembered that my mother often took pictures of her preserved jars of fruits, vegetables and jams. I use to wonder why. Now I know why. I line up my jars and snap away. Long after we’ve eaten this tasty treat, I’ll have the picture of my brightly colored jars of jam and remember two kitchens – hers and mine.

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