Thursday, August 25, 2011
On a neighborhood ramble earlier in the summer, I found a huge tree covered in the worst cherries I'd ever tasted. Their glowing garnet-colored skins were thick and crunchy, their pale amber flesh blandly sweet but with an odd tart edge. At home I did some half-hearted google searches ("worst cherry variety") but came up empty.
When I passed the tree again yesterday, it was covered in the biggest cherries I'd ever seen. And they were plums.
Thousands of them lurked under the coppery leaves in tight knots (it's a wonder I didn't mistake them for grapes). In under 10 minutes, I was headed home with more than four pounds in my bag.
Then I had to figure out what to do with them. Those tough skins--a deal-breaker on "cherries"--weren't much more palatable on plums. And the small pits clung so tenaciously to the fruit that any attempt to remove them just ended up pulping the whole thing.
And so I arrived at jam, the simplest way to tame a feral fruit. I washed my plums and set them to simmering in a huge saucepan until they eventually turned to aromatic maroon mush. I let the mush cool, dumped it into a colander and stirred and pressed until I was left with a saucepan full of juice and pulp, and a colander bristling with stems, skins, and pits. I stirred a minimal amount of sugar and a tiny bit of cinnamon into the juice, set it back on to simmer, and went on with my day.
A couple of hours later, jam appeared. Thick as primordial ooze, with all sorts of mysterious spicy-earthy-fruity flavors darting around under its sweet surface and a smell that reaches the far side of the room about .04 seconds after I take the lid off the jar. It would be a great addition to fancy dishes, both savory and sweet, and while I'd like to say I've exploited it fully I've actually been enjoying more straightforward hits: a spoonful on yogurt or in oatmeal, stirred into a glass of seltzer, or spread on buttered toast.