The plum tree outdid itself this year. By early spring, it was festooned in blossom, like a ridiculously over-frilly bride, by midsummer its branches were so heavily laden that we thought we’d have to rig up some kind of support mechanism to prevent them snapping. We decked it in green netting to keep the wood pigeons from helping themselves. And September arrived, the plums ripened and we began to feast.
Miss Small is quite a plum fan, and would happily help herself to one whenever she passed the tree. Her big sister took a little more persuading, as the bitter bite of the skins put her off, even though the fruit itself was lusciously sweet. Whenever I went to visit a friend, I took a little brown paper bag full of plums. Our neighbours got some too. Big girl even made a plum crumble, all by herself.
What happened next is twofold; the remaining plums pretty much ripened all at once, and we were told that the tail end of Hurricane Katia was on its way and we should all batten down the hatches. So last Saturday, as the sun shone, we tidied up the garden, putting all the rubbish out and the toys away. It looked fab. Why didn’t we have it looking like this all through the summer?
And then I stripped the tree. Alas, the wasps also enjoyed our plum harvest, so it was quite a high risk task, checking each plum carefully before plucking it, so’s not to put my fingers into a wasp-filled cavity. I was amazed to have escaped without being stung, but it was a pretty rank task.
We had four huge basins full of plums.
And I knew, from past experience, that plums don’t keep terribly long.
First up was plum gin. “Oh trust you to do the gin first” complained big girl. “But it’s the easiest” I protested, while hoping she didn’t think her mother was an unreformed lush. Plum gin is fab. You take a pound of plums, a bottle of gin and a pound of sugar. Halve the plums and take out their stones. That’s the annoying bit. Then dissolve – as far as you can – the sugar in the gin. Add the plums, seal your jar and put in a dark place. Shake it every few days, then once a week or so. By Christmas it will be blush-pink and gorgeous, fragrant and rich, redolent of late summer evenings just when the nights are darkest. You can drink it with tonic, or add to cava for an elegant aperitif.
After the plum gin came chutney. I stayed up to three in the morning making the bloody stuff and I’m still not convinced it’s properly set. But Mr R said I probably didn’t need to reboil, and I just couldn’t bear to, so fingers crossed its okay in a few months time. I used Nigel Slater’s recipe from Tender, while optimistically suggests boiling for 30 minutes. Unless Nigel’s lowering his jelly pan into the simmering maw of a volcano, I just don’t see how he can get it to the right consistency in that timeframe, but I suppose that’s why he’s a mammothly successful cookery writer and I’m posting on my blog.
While I waited for the chutney to boil itself down, I did a few jars of plums in rosewater syrup. I didn’t bother stoning the plums this time, as it was sort of soul-destroying. Also I’d sampled the gin I’d bought for the plum gin, so was perhaps a little more gung-ho. I made a sugar syrup to the ratio of 2:3 sugar to water, then sloshed in enough rosewater to fragrance it without actually turning it into perfume. Plonked the plums into large pickle jars and topped up with the cooled syrup. Any leftover syrup can be added to gin and tonic to make a delightfully refreshing beverage.
Day two, I decided to have a stab at Asian plum sauce – this recipe here. I did some internet comparison and they all seemed fairly similar, so here we go again with the stoning. Funny thing with plums is, you can never tell which ones will just pop their stones out without any fuss, and which will hold onto them with enviable tenacity. The plum sauce turned out okay, i think, although I’m not sure if it’s suffering some kind of identity crisis and can’t quite decide if it’s jam or not. Jam with teriyaki sauce in it, right enough, but jam nevertheless. I reckon you could use it like a barbecue sauce, or as part of a meal, but I don’t think I’d use it as a dipping sauce or anything like that. Also, it’s a slightly strange colour – like when you’re making rice krispie squares and have melted highland toffee together with pink and white marshmallows… Anyway, I may try to give away more jars of this, as even if it’s quite nice, there’s no chance we will consume four jars of it in the next year.
The next day I had a friend and her wee one coming over for dinner, so I made plum gingerbread pudding. I saw this recipe on the Moneysavingexpert forums, and thought it sounded amazing. It was. Seriously good. We used a little extra sugar (included in the recipe below) to counteract those bitter skins, but the gingerbread was yum and the caramelised plum toffee-ish sauce at the bottom was fab. It’s definitely a keeper:
Mix a pound to a pound and a half of plums (halved & stoned) with 4oz caster sugar and put into buttered ovenware dish.
Melt together 2oz butter with 3oz black treacle and 1oz golden syrup. Add 75ml milk and a beaten egg and leave to cool. Mix 4oz plain flour, 1oz granulated sugar, 1 tsp mixed spice, 1 tsp ground ginger and ½ tsp bicarb into the cooled treacle mixture and pour over fruit. Bake at 170 for around 45 mins. Serve warm, with cream and/or ice-cream. Lick your plate.
The thing is, I’m kind of plummed out now. There are still jars of plum preserve all over the kitchen, because we need to clear out the jam cupboard to make space. One of the jars of plums in rosewater has started to ferment, its liquid becoming some sort of fizzy plum-rose champagne. It’s pretty good – I have taken a few slurps out the top of the jar (you know, to stop it overflowing…) and I wish I knew how to make it on purpose. The other jars seem intact.
I occasionally tip the chutney jars to one side to see if they’ve miraculously gelled. But they haven’t, so far.
There is still about half a basin of plums left. Every morning I throw out the worst ones, the wrinkled fellows, the ones with dark, soft patches, the precursors of mould. But I can’t just throw out all of the rest. They’re still good! I could still make something with them, couldn’t I?