I always thought I had a pretty good childhood. Each winter, my father would make a skating rink in the back yard, which we and our friends would use for noisy hours on end. And when we came in bright pink and shivering, Mom defrosted us with mugs full of homemade hot chocolate. I had a grandmother who let me eat dessert first and an aunt who invited us to her cottage each summer for long weeks spent doing absolutely nothing in a way only a pre-Space-Invaders child could do. If there was one thing missing from my youth, it was a dog.
I now know the missing element was actually an orchard.
Reading Romney Steel’s Plum Gorgeous made me incredibly nostalgic for a past I never had. I felt simultaneously excited by her recipes and pictures yet sad that I have lived this long and never seen, let alone tasted a wild plum. Knowing I have never plucked a kumquat from a tree or spotted a persimmon in its natural state pained me. I cursed the cruel Canadian latitude that meant no lemons would ever grow in my backyard and that all my pomegranates were fated to come from a store. By the end of the book I was ready to move to California, or the Mediterranean, or any other sunny zone capable of showering me with cold-intolerant fruit.
But being lazy and rather attached to my husband and cats, I compromised and made plum jam.
With lavender from my garden.
Even though the plums weren’t wild, I feel somewhat redeemed.
Wild Plum & Lavender Jam
Excerpt from Plum Gorgeous by Romney Steel. Published by Andrews McMeel © 2011.
- Wild plums, rinsed and stemmed [Note: I used regular plums]
- Lavender flowers
- Fresh lemon juice (optional)
In a very large pot, place as many plums as the pot can manage with 1/2 inch (at most) of water at the bottom. Cook over low to medium heat, stirring on occasion, until the fruit is very soft and pulpy, about 45 minutes. Cool slightly, and then strain the mixture in a large cone sieve placed over a second pot, pressing hard on the solids to extract the pulp and juices. Discard the remaining solids and pits.
Measure the pulp. For every cup, you will want to add a scant 3/4 cup sugar, perhaps a little less or more depending on how sweet you like your jam. You can start with less, and add more as desired later. Or simply eyeball it with as much sugar as you think it will need, a method my sister Sara uses quite regularly with great success. Add a small handful of lavender flowers. (Simply pick unsprayed lavender stems and leave them out in the sun for a few days, then pull off the flowers when dried. Fresh lavender flowers will work too, but dried seems to offer more concentrated flavours.)
Once you’ve added the sugar and lavender, bring the mixture to a simmer over low to medium heat, gently stirring to dissolve the sugar. When dissolved, raise the temperature a smidge, then cook at a fairly rapid simmer, stirring on occasion, for 30 to 40 minutes, until desired setting point is reached. To check the set, place a spoonful on a cold plate and let sit for 1 minute. Then run your finer through it; it should wrinkle and feel firm.
More often than not, I allow the jam pot to sit on the stove for a day (or longer) after it has cooked once, allowing the flavours to develop. Then I add more sugar to taste, or a squeeze of lemon juice, if needed, and cook again. At this point, watch it more closely so it doesn’t burn — or turn a deep, rosy amber color (at which point you will have more of a plum butter –yummy too). Pot the jam in sterlized jars, top with hot lids and bands, and turn the jars over for 1 hour to help complete the seal.* Store in a dark cupboard for up to a year, or longer in the refrigerator.
This will appeal to: Fruit lovers and people who want to explore rustic elegance. While there is no foie gras or caviar, rose petals, creme fraiche and alcohol liberally splash about the pages. The recipes range from extremely simple to those requiring a bit of patience. Nothing here is beyond the cooking abilities of most home cooks, but depending where you live, Rangpur limes, Cara Cara oranges and Meyer lemons will be hard to come by. And when you read Steele’s recipes, that will break your heart.
Must try recipes:
- Blueberry Lemon Thyme Risotto
- Honey-Baked Figs with Lavender and Wine
- Grilled Lamb Chops with Pomegranate
Biggest Delight: The photos. I first read this book as a PDF galley and actually gasped when I saw the stunning use of colour in the Moroccan Orange Salad — the orange, purple and white food perfectly reflect the pattern on the plate. Her simple but rich photos are as succulent as the recipes they illustrate. Steele describes herself as a visual artist and it shows. This book isn’t filled with food porn; it’s a gallery of food art.
* Before you write impassioned letters warning me of the dangers of improperly sealed food, I hereby endorse sealing jams and small jars of preserves in a boiling water bath for 10 to 15 minutes. Whether you follow Steel’s directions or mine, be sure your lids “pop” so you know you have a true seal. For those unfamiliar with the method, here’s a link to Bernardin’s instructions.Google+