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Aug 8, 2008 09:01 AM

Plum Crazy - Jelly ?

I am the recipient of a HUGE box of plums, freshly picked from a co-worker's tree. They are big, purple, and really good eating. Since I have at least 25 lbs. of these I thought I would make jelly, but all the recipes call for tons of sugar and also for added pectin. It has been several years since I have made jelly, so I'm a bit hazy on how flexible I can be with quantities of sugar and pectin. Do I really need pectin? Is there an alternative?

I would appreciate any suggestions and/or recipes, even some unconventional ideas for combinations of plums and herbs, etc.


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  1. Plums have lots of natural pectin and therefore, you won't have to add so much sugar. Keep searching for a better recipe - sorry I can't help with a recipe. I have only made plum jam.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sarah galvin

      If you make jam rather than jelly, you won't need to worry about the whole pectin thing so much. There are good, simple recipes for plum jam in Laurie Colwin's books (either Home Cooking or More Home Cooking, both widely available) and in Good Things by Helen Witty. Both call for just plums and sugar. I never, ever use commercial pectin, and my jams turn out fine. Softer than commercial jam, but way yummier. Trick is to mix fruit and sugar together beforehand, let it sit for several hours, then simmer. This helps pull excess water out of the fruit, and removes that "raw sugar" taste without requiring lots of boiling. If you end up with lots of juice in the mixture after macerating, drain it off, boil it down to a thickish syrup, then add in the rest of the fruit and simmer to a jam-like consistency. A little lemon juice also helps with gelling. Enjoy! To can, scoop hot jam into sterilized (fresh from dishwasher, or boiled for 10 min) canning jars, cover sealed jars with hot water in a deep pot and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Remove jars and let them sit undisturbed til cold. Check seals before storing in a cool, dark pantry.

    2. Don't try to cut corners. Pectin is found in a number of fruits, including plums, particularly when they are not fully ripe. Madeleine Bullwinkel in her book Gourmet Preserves Chez Madelaine does not use commercial pectin, but prefers to extract it from apples. But keep in mind that you also need sugar, because the gel is formed by pectin combining with sugar and acid. Too little sugar and the gel won't set, but if you use too much it will weep.
      Unfortunately, I found only jam recipes in my references. You should be able to find jelly recipes from Uncle Phaedrus, the sleuth of lost recipes, on the web. (Google Uncle Phaedrus.)
      Having said that, Madeline Bullwinkel has a Damson Plum Jam recipe that calls for 4 pounds of Damson plums, 1 cup water, and 3/4 cups of sugar for every cup of plum pulp.Her plum jam with cardomom uses Italian plums and 1 cup of sugar and 1/3 cup of water for 2 pounds of plums. I don't have a weight/volume chart for sugar handy. But I suspect that it works out to equal weight, pound for pound, of fruit to sugar.
      Christine Ferber's book calls for 2 1/2 pounds Mirabelle Plums or 2 1/4 net, plus 3 3/4 cups of granulated sugar and the juice of 1 lemon. She says she only uses mirabelle plums, so there is nothing else to compare it to in her book.
      Jan Berry in her book "The Art of Preserving" has a string of plum recipes, including chutneys, spiced plums, and plum sauce. But the only jam recipe is a plum and apple jam that uses 2 lbs of firm plums, 1/4 cup water, 1 lb firm cooking apples, peeled and chopped, and 6 cups granulated sugar.
      Joan Hassol in her books "Well Preserved: A Jam-making Hymnal" used commercial pectin for her recipes, which she buys in bulk from Pacific Pectin in Oakhurst, CA (even though the recipes list the pectin in terms of packages as if you got it from your grocers). She has a beach plum jam recipe that calls for 4 cups beach plum pulp and juice, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 1/2 packages powdered pectin, and 7 cups sugar. She makes the pulp by covering the fruit with water and simmering until it is mushy and then running it through a Foley food mill. I am a little skeptical of her recipes. Even her crab apple jelly calls for powdered pectin. In Washington State, I used to pick crabs to make "pectin" for other fruit. So I suspect that, in the light of the other authors, you don't need the added pectin unless they are very ripe. You can always freeze the fruit and make the jam or jelly in small batches. Try a couple of pounds without the added pectin and see how it turns out.
      All of the sources emphasize the need to seal properly. Most recommend using a pressure cooker. Parafin alone is not enough.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Father Kitchen

        This may be a bit late, but I found a website that gives a simple test for determining whether or not fruit contains enough pectin. Try www.estension.umn.dedu/distribution/n.... Also another site suggested extracting the juice by cooking the plums for a few minutes in a pressure cooker, pitting them, and running them through a Foley mill before letting the juice drain through a jelly cloth.

        1. re: Father Kitchen

 is the site. Good info, especially 'Do not taste this mixture'.

      2. Plum jam is a cinch. I use Pomona's Pectin (sets because you add a tiny bit of calcium), so I don't have to use much sugar. Just use the little paper guide tucked into the Pomona's package to know how much. If you're not sure, ERR ON THE SIDE OF LESS PECTIN. Plums really don't need much extra help. I made plum spackle once--trust me, you want a soft set. It's really not complicated and FAR easier than worrying about natural pectin amounts or adding apples.

        I rarely add more than a cup of sugar to any of my jam. With the Pomona's, you can just do it to taste. I'd say maybe a cup of sugar to 5-6 cups of fruit. Most traditional recipes call for SCADS more sugar, but it's really not necessary if you're using Pomona's. If you just use a conventional brand "low-sugar" pectin, all bets are off. As I recall, you still need more sugar for those.

        I just throw plums in a big heavy pot, add a little water or wine, cook them down, and put them through my food mill on the coarsest setting. I like the bits of skin left in the jam. You then add the Pomona's and sugar as the directions state.

        1. My results so far:
          I used the Joy of Cooking guidelines to start. I boiled the plums in minimal water to extract the juice, then strained it through layers of cheesecloth in a big collander. The juice was beautiful, and I ended up with about 15 cups of juice and still had plums left over. Aside from being a bit messy, this process was really easy.
          For my first batch of jelly I used (JOC again) no pectin and 3/4 cup sugar to 1 cup juice ratio. I boiled it until it passed the drip-off-the-spoon test described in JOC, at the same time monitoring the temperature to achieve 220 degrees. That took about 30 minutes of boiling. All would have been OK had I not used a Le Creuset dutch oven that had a black nonstick liner that had retained (and released into my jelly) the smell of tomato sauce. I ended up discarding that batch.
          Next 2 batches, in the interest of time, I cheated and used commercial pectin, which required more sugar. I also used my larger dutch oven with the enamel liner. The jelly was alot easier to make, but I am going back next weekend to experiment with the no pectin recipe.
          I will do further research based on the replies. Thank you very much for all of your time.
          The plums keep coming! I was given more yesterday, so I want to do a batch with orange peel added, maybe do a jam instead of jelly. This is remarkably easy once you have all the paraphernalia required.

          1 Reply
          1. re: pcdarnell

            When you said the juice was beautiful, that brought back memories. My mom and grandmother would always make plum jelly from the wild plum trees in our area. The color is gorgeous and I love the taste so much. Homemade plum jelly is a childhood treasure to me. Sadly the last time I tried to make it mine didn't set well, but it was still tasty.

          2. Thanks for the update. I have never made plum jelly and maybe, this will be the year. I have the JOC and would prefer to use the no pectin method.