The real pleasure of cooking is the joy of sharing the results, don’t you agree?
Today in my kitchen I am teaching granddaughters Aidan and Caitlin to use summer bounty to make gifts to share with their teachers for the holidays.
For years, our classes on making and packaging food gifts always sold out weeks in advance. Students would leave with an almost evangelical excitement, eager to prepare and personalize gifts that would be so much more meaningful than purchased ones. My late husband Paul and I even wrote a book on the subject, With Love From Your Kitchen.
One of the most popular recipes from those classes was a shimmering jam we invented one languid summer afternoon when we merged purple-skinned rosy-fleshed plums with dark Jamaican rum and orange rind.
Now, in a different life in a different home, I still cherish my summer ritual of strolling through local farmer’s markets seeking out and tasting the plums or pluots (a cross between plums and apricots) until I find the perfect color and flavor to make this divine concoction.
Then I buy lots and lots to make many batches of this jam, enough to fill and seal at least 100 of the beautiful 8 ½ -ounce Quattro Stagioni canning jars usually available at the Container Store and on Amazon.com. (See Note)
As the holidays approach, I wrap my jam-filled jars in cellophane and ribbons and give them away as gifts.
Plums and pluots are just coming into their perfect ripeness. Even if you've never made jam before, give it a try. Better yet, invite a favorite friend to join you in shopping and chopping, to enjoy jam-making and sharing the results.
My girls will hug themselves for planning ahead when they open the family gift cupboard to see jars stacked there, waiting, like a secret Swiss account, to be withdrawn when just the right moment arrives.
Stirring heartfelt wishes for loved ones into all that is simmering on your stove is your secret ingredient.
DIANA’S SUGAR PLUM JAM
For about 16 eight-ounce jars of jam
8 cups pitted and chopped dark-skinned purple plums such as Santa Rosa, or pluots (Flavor King pluots are wonderful)
14 cups sugar
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Grated peel (zest) of 2 large oranges
½ cup Myers’s dark Jamaican rum
Certo liquid fruit pectin (2 packets if using plums, 1 packets for pluots)
Note: I like the one-time use lids that come with the Quattro Stagioni jars, but sometimes use the two-piece lids and ring bands that come with the more common Ball or Kerr brands jars you find in most supermarkets.
If using the two-piece lids, know that the outer ring bands may be used again and again, but the inner lids should be used only once.
Another note: When filling jars, your job will be easiest if you use a wide-mouth canning funnel available at many hardware stores or online.
Wash jars in hot soapy water and rinse; place on a baking sheet and keep warm in a 225 degree oven until ready to fill. Pour boiling water over the jar lids (and rings, if using) and set aside.
Using a small, sharp paring knife, halve the fruits, remove the pits and cut each half into about 8 or 9 cubes. Combine the plums, sugar, lemon juice and orange rind in very large (8 to 10 quart) stainless saucepot. Place over medium-high heat. Heat the mixture, stirring to dissolve the sugar, to a rolling boil that you cannot stir down and boil hard for 1 minute.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Certo and rum. Skim any foam off the surface; continue to stir and skim for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, ladle the hot jam into the hot jars to within ¼-inch of the top. Wipe the rims with a clean paper towel dipped in the boiled water. Dry with a clean, dry paper towel. Use the tongs to place the lids on the jars and screw the lids or ring bands on tightly. Turn the jars upside down after sealing and set a timer for 30 minutes. Turn right side up, and finish cooling cool. You will hear the jar tops popping as they seal.
When the jars are completely cool, wipe the outside of the jars to clean away any drips. The jars should sparkle (I polish mine with window cleaner to make sure they do).
TO PREPARE IN ADVANCE: Cut up enough plums or pluots and freeze in plastic bags in 8-cup quantities for jam making whenever the mood strikes. Jars of prepared jam, properly sealed, may be stored in a cool, dark, dry place for at least six months and up to a year. Stored in the refrigerator, they will keep indefinitely.
PRESENTING JAM AS GIFTS
Label the lids of your jam-filled jars with round self-adhesive labels, then wrap in clear cellophane and tie with ribbon. Or, for a country kitchen look, you can tie tiny-print fabric over the top and secure with miniature rickrack.
For a more arty, modern look, you can wet cooking or stationery parchment paper and place it over the top of the jar and secure with a rubber band. When the parchment is dry, use a ribbon to hide the rubber band. The result is a tight, drum-like seal on which you can use colorful markers to write a special greeting.