This is a plum jam you’ll want to put on everything! It makes a great accompaniment for morning toast, bagels, rolls, and crackers. It even works as a baste for roasted or grilled meats like chicken and pork. If you think making jam is hard, this recipe will change your mind and have you making jam in no time.
Why I Had to Make Jam
Most new foods I’ve made because I wanted to. I was either interested in making a specific food, a recipe sounded amazing and I just had to try it (like Kelley’s Chicken Fried Steak), or I simply wanted to bring in some variety to a meal lineup that felt a little tired and played out.
But other foods I’ve learned to make because I had to. It was less about choice and more about necessity.
It usually goes a little something like this. I discover a food and become absolutely addicted to it — sometimes it’s something I ordered in a restaurant, other times it’s something I bought at a local grocery store. The point is that the food becomes something I need in my life and, for a while, that goes smoothly.
But then things change, mostly because I’ve moved to another part of the country. The restaurant where I could always get that amazing food whenever the craving hit me? Doesn’t exist in my new location. The store that sells the food product I can’t live without? Either that store isn’t found where I live or (in the case of large chain grocery stores) they don’t stock the item in that part of the country.
This is why I’ve had to learn to make etouffee, gnocchi, cioppino, barbecue chicken wraps, blintzes, pecan chicken tender salad, chile rellenos, sweet green chile…and now plum jam. I can’t buy plum jam where I live. I’ve looked everywhere. So if I want plum jam (and I really do), then I have to make it myself.
My Mother Made Jam…Once
When I was in elementary school, my mother made a batch of blackberry jam. I remember this because my mother didn’t do much beyond the cooking required to keep herself and three children fed. Sure, there were some “extras” like birthday cakes made from box mixes, full Thanksgiving blow-out feasts, and cookies around Christmas, but other than that, it was strictly each day’s three basic meals.
It’s still a mystery to me how I came to love cooking as I do, but I suspect it’s one of those “compensating for my childhood” things (That’s my psychology degree waking up to remind me it’s there.).
Anyway, there are a couple other reasons I remember this out-of-the-norm experience of jam-making so well.
- I didn’t like blackberries when I was a child, so the jam held no appeal for me. Like, whatsoever.
- It took hours and HOURS to make the jam. The day-long process was messy and complicated. There was pectin involved, there were spills, there were hot mason jars (some of them cracked), and the kitchen turned into a steamy disaster zone. My mother never made jam again.
Suffice it to say, the memory of that day left a permanent impression on me and “Making jam” went on my List of Things I’ll Never Do.
But last year I moved to the Pacific Northwest and made the unhappy discovery that the plum jam I’ve bought for about 20 years is nowhere to be found in the city where I live. Even my husband looks for it any time he goes into a new grocery store. We just can’t find it anywhere.
For almost two years I’ve made do with other jelly and jam condiments. But enough is enough. It was time to start researching jam recipes to see if I could come up with one that wouldn’t recreate the Jam Disaster from my childhood.
You Had Me At “No Pectin”
I enjoy doing research for recipes. Reading about the history, the science, and the artistry of food inspires me in my real-life cooking. Years ago, when Gourmet was still in publication, one of my luxuries was curling up on a weekend morning to read the latest issue each month. Today I read food blogs and websites like Epicurious and Food Network.
It was in doing research about different jam recipes that I learned certain fruits have natural pectin in their skins, which means you don’t need to buy pectin to make jam. As luck would have it, plums are one such fruit with a lot of pectin in their skins. I felt like this was the universe telling me I was meant to make this plum jam recipe.
Not Just Any Plums, Though
But not just any plums would do because the plum jam I’ve been craving for nearly two years is red plum jam. The first commercially sold brand I fell in love with was Bama Spreads Red Plum Jam. Later I switched to Smuckers Red Plum Jam because Bama wasn’t sold in the grocery stores where I lived.
I bought red plums about three or four weeks ago at a “boutique” grocery store that has a truly stunning, if small, produce department. The plums were at their peak of ripeness, which is probably why the price per pound was so good.
Unfortunately, I got busy and my jam-making day got pushed back. A lot. More than a week, in fact. By the time the dust settled enough for me to remember I needed to use the plums before they went bad, they’d gone bad. Food fail.
Not one to give up easily, I went to the grocery store a few days ago and hoped there would still be plums available. There were two signs for plums. One said “Red Plums” and so I was happy and rejoiced…until I realized the produce code on all the plums was for the other plums being advertised: “Black Plums.”
Still not giving up, I examined the plums. Even though they had the code for black plums, the skins looked awfully red on a lot of them. “What the heck?” I thought and I loaded up my bag with about 3-4 pounds of plums that weren’t rock-hard when I gently squeezed them. I figured I’d give them a couple days on the counter and hope for the best.
We finally had a break in the weather here in the Pacific Northwest and there was enough natural light coming in the kitchen windows for taking photos (which are a big part of food blog articles), so I knew Jam Day had arrived.
First, I rinsed all the plums in cold water and dried them with a towel.
Then I used my favorite chef’s knife (thank you, Mike and Michelle!) to cut down to the stone all the way around the plum and then I twisted the two halves in opposite directions to free the stone from one half of the plum.
I repeated this for all the plums, putting the stone-free halves in a bowl and setting the stone-in halves to the side to deal with later.
I chopped the halves with no stones into very small pieces to encourage the fruit to soften and break down as it cooked. After each half was chopped, it went into the Dutch oven I was using to make the jam.
Then it was time to take the stones out of the remaining halves. I used a plastic knife to loosen and remove the stones.
Then I chopped the rest of the plum halves and added them to the Dutch oven. By no means do you have to process your plums in this order — I did this so I could have an “assembly line” method to try to speed things along (I was worried about it getting too dark for decent photos).
This looks like A LOT of plums. As I surveyed the amount of chopped plums taking up space in the Dutch oven, I thought “20 or 21 plums was probably going overboard.” But since it wasn’t like I could put the plums back together and save them for something else, I accepted that I’d be making a lot of jam and pressed forward.
I added a little bit of water (that I will definitely skip next time), covered the plums, and put them over medium-low heat. I stirred from time to time to make sure the plums weren’t sticking and I used the spoon to “poke test” how soft the plums were getting.
After about 30 minute of simmering, this is what they looked like.
It was at this point I began to suspect that perhaps the plums had been labeled incorrectly at the grocery store. As you can see, the color of the cooked fruit mixture was definitely starting to look very red. (Those of you who really know your plums probably realized as soon as you saw the photo of the one I cut open that the plums I bought were red plums with the wrong labels on them!)
I removed the pot from the heat and added lemon juice and sugar. I added half a cup at a time, tasting after each addition to know when to stop. I stopped sooner than you might guess and I think you’ll be very pleased at how little sugar this recipe calls for in comparison to other jam recipes.
Then I got my newest gadget out to play. She was a surprise from my husband after I mentioned that I wish I’d been able to blend the spiced carrot soup I made earlier in the week.
You’re not supposed to have favorite children, pets, or kitchen gadgets — but I will confess that I do love this tool so much! Trust me, when you need a stick blender, nothing else will do the job. If you’ve never used one, you’re missing out and I highly encourage you to buy one and try it for yourself.
After a few minutes with my stick blender, this is what my (red) plum jam looked like.
Then it was back on the heat to bring it to a boil for about 10-15 minutes. I stirred frequently to make sure the jam wasn’t sticking and scorching on the bottom.
By now I knew that I’d nailed the taste of the jam. It’s actually better than the one I used to buy since it’s not as sweet as commercially made jam and the wonderful red plum flavor really comes through. But I was less certain about getting that “jam consistency” I had in mind.
You know what always comes through when you need a thickener? Tried and true cornstarch!
I made up a cornstarch slurry to help things along (as I told a friend, “to tip the odds ever in my favor”) and stirred that into the pot of jam.
I continued to boil and stir the jam for about another five minutes and then I called it good. I turned off the heat and put a few ladlefuls into a small bowl to cool.
I Never Expected It to Go This Way
Keeping things real here, I thought I might finally have set myself up for failure with this recipe. In the back of my mind, I questioned the wisdom of attempting jam (I’ve never forgotten the part in Little Women when Meg has her meltdown because her jelly won’t “jell”). To have a tasty red plum jam in my fridge that I can’t wait to use in the morning goes far beyond my expectations of how this was going to turn out.
Getting the flavor of the plum jam spot on surprised me — especially because I didn’t realize the red plums had been wrongly labeled as black plums. I was just hoping black plums would taste good in jam form! The grocery store’s error ended up being a stroke of luck for me.
But the biggest surprise was how fast and easy it was to make this jam. I expected it to take all afternoon (and some recipes do because they call for multiple boils). Instead, I had a large pot of delicious cooked plum jam cooling about two hours after I’d begun rinsing off the plums. This was certainly a far cry from that fateful blackberry jam fiasco from so many years ago.
Storing and Freezing Jam
If I had really thought this through, I would have gotten small mason jars ahead of time to put the jam in and process in a canner – though I would need to add more sugar for canning. Jars of properly canned homemade jam will last up to two years unopened.
But I didn’t have a plan for storage. Instead, I just dove into the recipe, made an amount of jam well beyond what two people can eat in a normal period of time, and now I have to figure out how to try to keep it from going to waste.
Google hasn’t really helped me figure out how long homemade jam lasts in the refrigerator. I’ve seen estimates of 3-4 weeks all the way up to 6-8 months. While sugar can act as a preservative, it usually has to be used in relatively large amounts to act as an effective preservative.
This is a pretty low-sugar recipe, so I’m going with the conservative estimate of 3-4 weeks in an airtight container stored in the fridge.
Freezer estimates I found seem a little more accurate. Airtight containers of jam should keep in the freezer for 6-8 months. Some websites mentioned that once defrosted, jam may be a little runnier than when it was first made. It should then keep for 3-4 weeks when properly stored in the fridge.
How to Use Plum Jam
As I mentioned at the very beginning of this article, plum jam makes a fabulous spread on all sorts of toasted breads in the morning (my husband and I have already enjoyed some on toasted Franz Hawaiian bread).
It makes a great topping that brings a layer of sweetness to bagels and cream cheese.
Continuing the cream cheese theme, this plum jam mixed with cream cheese makes an amazing cracker spread for appetizers or buffets.
This plum jam would make a great version of Jam Cookies.
Plums pair nicely with pork and chicken, so plum jam can serve as a roasting baste for either meat.
If you add in some spice (dried crushed habanero, fresh diced jalapeno, or diced green chile), it turns this plum jam into a condiment with some serious kick to it.
I’m sure there are even more creative ways to enjoy this plum jam — hopefully if you have one, you’ll share it in the comments! These are simply the uses I’ve come up with.
Final Thoughts On Plum Jam
My red plum jam is still cooling and firming up. Some websites have said the pectin can take 24-48 to fully firm, so I’m still unsure what the final consistency will be. It was similar to very thick (but very smooth) applesauce at last check.
My husband and a couple friends who dropped by have all sampled the jam and their responses were unanimously positive. None of them have ever tasted red plum jam before, but all of them pronounced it “Very good!”
Since I have lots of past experience with commercially made versions, I can definitely say this is the best red plum jam I’ve ever eaten and I plan to make the most of every spoonful. This will definitely not be the last time I make jam!
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- 3-4 pounds of fresh plums
- 1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- Optional Cornstarch Slurry
- 4 tablespoons cornstarch
- 4 tablespoons cold water
- Put a couple small bowls in the freezer (you’ll use these to test your jam firmness later).
- Wash and dry the plums.
- Use a knife to cut down to the stone and around each plum. Twist the halves in opposite directions to separate the stone from one half of the plum.
- Use a plastic knife or a metal spoon to remove the plum stones.
- Chop the plums into small pieces and put them in a Dutch oven.
- Cover the plums and cook over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes until the fruit is soft and beginning to break down. Stir occasionally to keep the fruit from sticking to the bottom of the pot and to test the softness of the fruit.
- Remove the plums from the heat. Use either a masher or a stick blender to get the fruit to the consistency you want (you can leave it with chunks or blend it to a smoother texture).
- Stir in the lemon juice and sugar.
- Return the pot to medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to keep the jam from sticking to the bottom and scorching,
- Boil for 10-15 minutes and then turn off the heat.
- Use a spoon to put a dollop of jam into one of the bowls you put in the freezer. Wait a minute or so and then touch the jam with your finger. When it wrinkles, your jam will firm to typical jam consistency.
- If there are no wrinkles because the jam is still too runny, mix up the cornstarch slurry and stir it into the pot of jam.
- Return the jam to medium heat, bring it to a boil again, and boil for another 5-10 minutes.
- Ladle the jam into small jars or other airtight containers.
- Process in a canner or store in the fridge or freezer.
- Most of all, enjoy the amazing plum jam you just made!
For other plum recipes, visit these links.
And for a Cherry Jam recipe, click here.