Plum Crazy, Part I — I still have all these oranges

I am lucky enough to live in San Diego, and to have a lot of friends with fruit trees. Really, most things grow well around here if you try hard enough, but even a tree that is neglected most of the year can yield some great fruit. Most of them yield more fruit than any one person knows what the heck to do with, but that’s a perfect time to experiment!

Fresh from the tree!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I now own a really cool smoker that has already proven its worth in smoking garlic, jalapenos, pork tenderloin, chicken, sausage and steak. I’m also a sucker for a good sauce. My first idea is for a smoky plum barbeque sauce, building on what I recently learned about smoking garlic. I’m also leaning towards something that isn’t jam — I’d hate to become predictable — and I found an amazingly good-looking recipe for a Christmasy plum chutney. I learned that chutney is best if you seal it and then let it sit for a few months, so this is a perfect summer recipe to be holiday gifts later. 

The first bag of plums had been picked a couple of days before, and were given to me late last night. It became clear that these would have to be made into something immediately, and that most were fully ripe, if not borderline mushy.  This calls for a liquor emergency! Brandy and large mason jars, stat!

And, let’s face it, I still have a ton of oranges from another friend’s tree. I sliced about 5 oranges, peel and all, and removed the peel totally from another 8 or 9 oranges. This jam will need to have a little bitter flavor to offset the plum and spices. I prepped the oranges (i.e., sliced them, covered them in water) and let them sit overnight.

The next day … the oranges have been sitting at room temperature for 24 hours. I open up this huge bag of gorgeous plums. Ok, first things first. I have to triage the plums into the too-far-gone for use (to the garbage bag — sorry fellas); the cutting board to have pits and blemishes removed, then the good parts scrapped for jam; and the ready mason jars for the intact and pretty ones.

First, for the brandied plums. Equal parts brandy and sugar (I started with 4 cups each and that was only enough for two large jars), and only fill the jars about halfway with plums so they all can freely move around in there. That was easy … and these will be EXCELLENT in a couple of months!

The syrup is equal parts sugar and brandy.

Next, the jam. I prepared these oranges the same way I did in the citrus jelly post, so that I won’t have to add a tonnage of extra (and unneeded) sugar or storebought pectin. After bringing the oranges to a boil and letting them simmer for about 45 minutes, I strained the liquid through a jelly bag, and used the liquid – equal parts liquid to sugar. Then I added it to a pot of already-softening chunks of plum, fresh orange slices, and cinnamon. It doesn’t look like much, but it makes the house smell like Christmas. 🙂

Check back for the next post! With the next sack of plums I get, I plan to make chutney and barbeque sauce.

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Belinda’s Big Bag of Oranges, Part II, or How I Should Trust the Damn Recipe

OK, I was wrong. I was testy after getting carpal tunnel on my arms from all the oranges I had to juice and scrape and peel and boil … and I was disappointed that all of that work only yielded a jar and an almost-full jar. However, the jelly itself turned out great. After only 24 hours (the recipe said to wait 2 days for the jelly to fully gel), the jelly is firm enough to cut (although a little loose, see photo) and it’s very tasty.

Keeping its shape!

I still plan to use the same procedure with the rest of these food swap oranges that I did with the lemons and limes in the previous post — slicing them, peels and all, covering them in water, and letting them soak overnight, then boiling and straining them, and at the very end, adding the sugar. I am very interested to see how the taste, texture and procedure are different. Stay tuned.

Belinda’s Big Bag of Oranges

Nothing says summer like a giant bag of fresh oranges from a friend’s tree. I got four bags from my friend at this month’s San Diego Food Swap — as well as finishing salts, marinara sauce, meat sauce, BBQ sauce and homemade cookies. If you are local I would totally recommend coming, and if you are in another town you should definitely find a local swap or start one yourself (like I did).

Fresh-picked oranges.

 

There are a few ways to use these oranges  — given my past experiements with marmalade, I wanted something decidely sweet. I mentioned in an earlier post that Linda Ziedrich’s awesome jelly book has a recipe for orange jelly, with a twist — you have to use pectin from another recipe in the book. Essentially, you juice the oranges, save the juice, then scrape the membrane and pith out of the oranges to make into pectin.

I was mesmerized. A way to make delicious jams and jellies, without tons of sugar? Using the same oranges for the jelly as for the pectin? Awesome. I had no idea how much work it was for so little. After putting serious elbow grease into juicing TONS of oranges (I see now why it is recommended to use big, juicy Valencia oranges instead of tiny, tart Southern California ones), I had barely two cups of pith and a nice pitcher of fresh juice.

After letting the mixture set overnight and simmer briefly, you let it strain through a jelly bag.

Supplies

This is probably a great time to mention my jelly-making supplies. When I first started making my own jams, jellies, marmalades, preserves and whatnot, I didn’t have a canning kit, a jar-boiling rack, or really anything aside from a really good Swedish-made plastic oven mitt that can reach into boiling water and grab a jar. Over the last few months I have acquired a funnel that is Mason-jar sized (excellent for avoiding spills — you haven’t lived until you’ve splattered boiling fruit on yourself) and a jelly bag strainer set, with cloth bags and this contraption, that is supposedly supposed to fit on the sides of a bowl, but it doesn’t fit any bowl I own. I had to make do.

I also have a cheap, hand-twisty juicer that I bought at a drug store, but if you are going to do what I did, I recommend getting a nice automatic juicer. The dozens of oranges took forver to juice!

Back to the pectin. One cup of pectin, one cup of juice, a cup and a half of sugar. It says to skim the foam off the top as it’s boiling, but it didn’t provide details. Especially when the pot looks like this:

Eventually the mixture reached a gel point, which is usually when the jam is quickly ladled into hot, sterile jars and sealed — usually it’s already gelling or looks like it’s about to gel immediately. Well, not this stuff. Hours of slicing, juicing, scraping, setting, boiling, stirring, skimming and watching led to two jars — well, not quite. And I won’t know if it will really gel for the next two days. What a buzzkill.

Will update in two days with the results. Instead of being totally bitter about it (get it?), I am going to wait and see how good this jelly is (This had better be the best jelly ever!) and if it’s not awesome, I am going to try a little experiment and use the oranges the same way I used the lemons and limes for jelly previously. More to come …