It's nearly midnight and the kitchen is filled with the smell of simmering wild plums. Delicious. I went out hunting for them late this afternoon and picked about eight pounds from the hedgerows at the end of the village. As there are still loads ripening with the promise of more, I decided to use all the plums for jelly. The wine and chutney can wait till later. I always feel a bit of a devil when I find food for free.
At this time of year I have a few carrier bags in the car just in case I spot some bounty, although it's much easier to find hedgerow fruit on foot. It's probably my imagination but these wild plums taste much better than the ones that I've bought from the supermarket in the past. Perhaps it's just that they're so fresh.
These wild plums are both sharp and sweet, they could be a cross between plums and damsons.As they're high in pectin it's easy to make a tangy jelly to serve with roast meat or add to your gravy for that extra zing. Any hedgerow fruit can be used for jelly, just make sure that you have a decent percentage of fruit that's high in pectin.
In the past I have included blackberries, damsons, crab apples and elderberries. I usually put aside the bullaces and sloes for making fruit gin. Our wine making equipment comes in handy for jelly making.
When the simmering fruit has softened it is poured through muslin (often referred to as a jelly bag). The tall buckets that we use to store the must for our wine are now going to be pressed into service to catch the drips from the jelly bags.
Rather than hang the bags (conventional method) I find it easier to line large plastic sieves with the muslin. These clip neatly onto the tops of the buckets. The sieve is covered with a clean tea towel to protect against flies.By morning, the dripping will have stopped.
The straining operation takes place in the bath so as to avoid spills in the kitchen carpet and to prevent intrusions by curious dogs. If I remember to stock up on sugar, we'll be making the jelly tomorrow evening.
Wild Plum or Damson Jelly Recipe,
Gather wild plums/damsons from the hedgerows, ideally small bittersweet ones. To make this recipe worthwhile, I pick at least 4 lbs. Wash and place the plums/damsons in a deep heavy bottomed saucepan. Add water to cover half of the fruit. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer very gently until all the fruit is soft and squishy. This can take anything from 15 minutes to over an hour, depending on how ripe the fruit is. Place the fruit in a jelly bag and drain overnight.
Measure the juice the next day. Pour it into a deep heavy bottomed saucepan and add 450g/1 pound of white granulated sugar for each 570ml/1 UK pint of juice. Heat the juice and sugar gently so as to make sure that that all the sugar has dissolved before bringing the liquid slowly to the boil. Continue to boil rapidly for about 5-10 minutes before testing for a set. Tossing in a nugget of butter will reduce the frothing that can occur.
Getting the right set can be tricky. I have tried using a jam thermometer but find it easier to use the following method. Put a plate in the fridge so that the warm jelly can be drizzled onto a cold plate. Return the plate to the fridge to cool. It has set when you run your finger through it and leave a crinkly track mark.
If after two minutes the cooled jelly is too liquid, continue to boil the jelly, testing it every few minutes until you have the right set. The jelly is far more delicious if it is slightly runny.
When the jelly is ready, pour into warm sterilised jars and immediately cover with lids. Label and store in a cool, dark place.
This jelly is excellent with meat and we often use it as a base for a sauce, dissolving it in the pan with a little wine or water and handful of chopped herbs.
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