Tuesday, August 17, 2010
It was a huge luxury to be able to ignore nearly everything in my life in favor of finishing the manuscript of my first book. But now I’m discovering the dark side of such irresponsibility: I’m disorganized in a way I’ve never been. I’ve missed phone calls, birthdays, anniversaries, and gotten numerous parking tickets.
And then there’s the plums.
Every summer for several years I’ve made jam. Usually it is berry based: strawberry, golden raspberry, ollallieberry. But early summer and berry season blew by, and all of a sudden it was late summer and the season of stone fruit.
I bought several pounds of Santa Rosa plums at the farmer’s market, and set them in a bowl to ripen. A couple of days passed; then a few more. Soon it had been over one week since I’d purchased the plums. If I didn’t do something with them soon, it would be twenty dollars of produce wasted.
It was no longer about wanting to make jam. I had to make jam. I trudged to the hardware store in the San Francisco cold for canning supplies, cursing my industrious nature.
But then I got home. I sliced the plums, sprinkled them with sugar, and set them aside to macerate. I gathered the necessary tools, prepared my jars, then placed the plums on the stove to cook. I’d forgotten how easy it was to make jam. And if you’re dealing with small amounts of fruit, it’s quick, too.
Yet in a busy world, jam making is also pleasantly slow. As I waited for the fruit to turn into jam, I stared out the window in my sun room and read part of a book. I realized my list was just that -- a list. There would always be more to do. No matter how quickly I crossed something off, there would always be something to replace it. And being overwhelmed? It’s just a function of being a grownup. I have so many things to do and so many things I care about, I simply can’t find time for it all.
But that jam: purple and sweet, but with plenty of natural tart, was delicious. And that day of making it was one of the best of the entire summer. My few jars are an important reminder of my summer: its harried days, unfinished lists, and, at the end of the season, the importance of doing a few things just for me.
2 pounds small plums, pitted and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 lemon, seeded
In a large, nonreactive saucepan, toss the plums with the sugar and let stand, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is mostly dissolved, about 1 hour.
Squeeze the lemon over the plums, add it to the saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the liquid runs off the side of a spoon in thick, heavy drops, 20 to 25 minutes. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface of the jam.
Discard the lemon and spoon the plum jam into three 1/2-pint jars, leaving about 1/4 inch of space at the top. Close the jars and let the jam cool to room temperature. Store the jam in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. Alternately, you can cook the jam till it is set, ladle into clean, well- prepared jars, and process in a water bath. Then the jam will keep in the cupboard for about a year.
Makes three, 12 ounce jars, plus a little more for tasting.