Sunday, June 29, 2014

Recipe: Crock-Pot Reduced-Sugar Plum Jam

Gonna have to wait for Part 2 of the "Crazy Chicken Lady" Saga.  I'm just evil that way!

Instead, I wanna switch gears and yak a bit about my garden.  More specifically, my Santa Rosa Plum tree.

You see, with our complete-and-utter lack of Winter, the fruit trees seem to have gotten confused and the plums were early this year.


And abundant...
Day #1 of harvesting
Day #2
Day #3 (I think?!)
Day "Gawd-Only-Knows!"
Stop the Madness!!!

And that's not even all of 'em!  We got a LOT of plums this year is what I'm sayin'!

Oh, and my last CSA Delivery?  They sent me even MORE plums ("Oh sh*t!").  Although, honestly, *my* plums were way bigger and tastier - HA!

I pawned some of my plums off on neighbors and friends.  Even tried a "Who Wants Plums?!" post on Facebook (got one or two takers).  Then I contemplated looking up local food-kitchens to see who would take some of my harvest (and/or was gonna put a post out on Freecycle)...

In the end, I decided that I'd try some kind of "easy" method of preserving them.  Added bonus: Since I've got so damned many plums, I figured I could make up Baby-Jars of jam and slap pretty labels on 'em, then give them away as Christmas Gifts to my colleagues...

Soooo...  The biggest challenge with *my* plums is that they are not freestone.  I think I've yammered about that before but the general gist is: Stonefruits (such as peaches, plums and apricots) can be "freestone" (where the pit isn't really "attached" to the inside of the fruit, and therefore it's easy to slice 'em in half and pop-out the pit), or "cling" (which is the exact opposite - the pit is super-glued to the inside of the fruits' flesh).  Santa Rosa Plums fall into the latter category, and they are a PITA to de-pit!

I did buy a plum-pitter, but my fruits were too big and juicy.  Attempts at using the pitter resulted in plum-juice squirting all over hell and creation...

Not a real time-saver.

So then I consulted The Great Oracle, Google, again.  I stumbled onto a couple-three different recipes for Plum-Butter made in the Crock-Pot.  The only site that I bookmarked was this one - and I didn't really follow-it to the letter (but it gave me a starting point, right?)

My Main Objective was to find a way to convert plums to something jam-like (or "Plum-Butter"-like, or "Plum Spread"-like), without having to scrub plum-juice off the ceiling!

And I made this three separate times - and got three completely-different results!  I'll tell you the differences, below.

What follows is my Best-Guess/Guideline for how to make it - and have it taste AWESOME!

But first a couple of caveats: 

1 - This is not going to be a chunky jam.  It's almost closer to "jelly" - except that it's not clear. It does have fruit-bits in it.  They're just not chunky-fruit-bits.  Think Smuckers-Jam consistency.  This is a cook-the-hell-out-of-it kinda jam - so it's not gonna have that "fresh-picked" flavor (like freezer jams).  Regardless, it it still *quite* tasty. 

2 - This is not a "quick and easy" jam.  It's fairly labor-intensive and takes a fair amount of time, but it doesn't require you to stand over a hot stove for an extended period of time (much appreciated, right now, 'cause our temps are in the 90's!).

3. Honestly, this recipe is PERFECT for a "Work-At-Home" kinda person (like me!) 'cause it helps to be nearby, but it doesn't require a lot of ongoing "hands-on" kinda tending...  If you're chained to your desk for 8+ hours/day (but can take breaks throughout the day), then this is the PERFECT recipe for you!

QT's Crock-Pot Reduced-Sugar Plum-Jam
Yield: appx 12 x 4oz. jars of jam

  • 30 plums (appx 4#), blanched and peeled (Count your plums before you start!)
  • 2 - 2-1/2 C Splenda
  • 1 - 1-1/2 C Granulated Sugar
  • 4 - 5 TBS powdered pectin
  • 2 TBS Lemon Juice
  • 1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/8 - 1/4 tsp Almond Extract
  1. Prepare a large dutch oven with appx 3" of lightly boiling water, and a large bowl filled with ice-water. Blanch your plums (appx 4-5 at a time) by plunking them into the boiling water for appx 30-60 seconds (til the skins start to peel), then dunk them immediately in the ice-water (to stop the "cooking").  Peel the now-loose-skins off the plums.  Don't freak-out if you don't get ALL of the skins off - just bear-in-mind that the skin is what provides the "tartness" (so the more skin you leave-on, the more sweetener you'll need).
  2. Put the naked plums into your crock pot (mine is a 4-quart model and 30 plums is about as much as it can comfortably hold). Cover and cook on high for appx 2-3 hours.
  3. At the 2-3 hour mark, the plums will still be round and recognizable, but mushy as all get-out.  Grab a slotted/holey serving spoon and a regular (metal) tablespoon and start scooping the plums, one at a time.  Use the tablespoon + slotted spoon to gooze-out the soft bits (back into the crock-pot) and remove the pit.  Repeat this for all of the plums and confirm that you got ALL of the pits!

    You may find that there's still a lot of fruit attached to the pits.  If you want to preserve as much fruit as you can, place the pits in a metal sieve/strainer and use your spoon to squish-'em up against the mesh and release all of the fruit gooze.

    Note: I did try a food-mill on my first-pass, but the pits actually jammed-it-up (no pun intended!).  The wire-mesh strainer actually worked better for me.
  4. Now you have a decision to make.  You can go with the Lazy-Method and return everything to the crock-pot to cook, uncovered, for another 4-6 hours.  Or you can transfer everything to your dutch-oven, on the stove-top, to continue cooking everything down (You're gonna have to "finish" on the stove-top, regardless...)
  5. Now you want to cook everything down 'til it's reduced to about half the volume you started with.  Crock-pot, uncovered, takes awhile.  Stove-top is faster - just make sure it's a low, rolling boil, and you stir frequently because you don't want it to burn and/or stick to the pot.
  6. After everything's been reduced by half, it's time for the Stove-Top.  Pour everything into your dutch-oven (if you chose the "Lazy Method!"), and stir in your cinnamon, lemon juice, and almond extract (they won't make a HUGE difference in the flavor, but I suspect it would be "lacking something" if you don't include them!).  Then give it a taste to get a rough idea of how much sweetener you think you'll need.
  7. Mix up your dry ingredients (Splenda + Sugar + Pectin) in a dry bowl.  I started out with the "lower" numbers (2 C Splenda + 1 C Sugar + 4 TBS Pectin), then stirred it in.  Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly.  Give it a taste and adjust if it needs more sweetener.
  8. If it needs more sweetener, check for "set" before adding it:  Scoop up a teaspoonful of jam and put it on a plate in the fridge for 5 mins.  If it "sets-up," you're good.  If not, add another TBS of Pectin when you add more sweetener (you *can* add pectin w/o add'l sweetener, but it tends to clump-up).
  9. Once it's confirmed to "set" properly and it tastes as sweet as you  like, transfer the jam into sterilized jam jars.  Clean the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a water-bath for 6 minutes...
  10. Confirm that the lids sealed properly, let 'em rest overnight, and you're all done!  Hey-oh!!!
Okaaaaaayyyy...  How 'bout some pictures?!

Rinsed 'n Ready!

Blanching Stations
Boiling water to the right, Bowl of ice water to the left

Nekkid Plums in the Crock Pot

Count your Plum Pits, and squish 'em thru a strainer!
(All present and accounted-for!)

This is what it looks like at the 2-3 hour point.
Lower-half: Already pitted
Upper-half: Pending pitting!
Cooking Down ("Lazy Method!")
It looks the same if you do it on the stove-top.  Just faster!

All Done!

Okay, additional Blah-Blah-Blahs!  

The first batch I made ended up being "Plum Sauce."  I did NOT blanch and peel the plums for the first batch, so that batch came-out SUPER tart!  I didn't do a water-bath-processing for that batch (I decided to toss it into the freezer), but - regardless - I think it's too tart for a shmear-on-bread kinda jam.  I'll use Batch #1 as a Plum-Sauce for chicken breasts or pork chops (and I bet it's DEEEE-LISH!).

Batch #2 was made using the "Lazy Method" - probably close to 10-hours in the crock pot (and one final hour on the Stove-top).  I was surprised that this method required the most added sweetener (since the plums were SUPER-ripe!).  It yieleded *exactly* 12 x 4 oz. jars.

Batch #3 was made using the Stove-Top Method (but the 1st two hours were in the crock-pot).  Those were fresher-plums (picked early this morning, and plunked into the crock-pot by 10am).  I thought the fresher batch would be more tart (for some reason), but that did NOT prove to be the case, so I cut-back to the "lower" estimates for sweeteners on that batch.

Batch #3 - even though I started out with the same qty of plums - yielded the most jam: 12 x 4 oz. jars PLUS another (appx) 10 oz on top of that (which I put in a plastic bin in the fridge - think I'll serve it over ice cream!).

Okay then!  If you've got a bumper-crop of plums, then I suggest you make yourself a couple-three batches of jam!



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