Monday, March 3, 2014

fruit file: Katoomba Plum Jam

by Cressida Hall

In my backyard is the most self-sufficient tree of all time. A plum of some description with dark flesh and lovely weeping branches. I do nothing to it. I don’t prune it, water it, or fertilise it. All I do is ignore it. As thanks it fruits abundantly each year. I remember it only when cajoling currawongs and screeching sulphur crested yobbos take up residence in its upper branches. The riot in my backyard tells me it’s time to harvest. Overcome with ennui I continue to ignore it letting the plums fall and the birds plunder. It seems a shame and a waste but what would I do with all those plums anyway? 

 While I assiduously ignore the tree my friend, Kat, has been keeping a weather eye on it. One evening she takes my giant laundry basket, braving knee high grass, and fills it overflowing with plums. The fruit sits on my kitchen bench ripening and reproving me. I hand out a few bags of squishy plums to family and friends but the volume seems undiminished. There’s only one answer I’ll have to make jam. The giant bottles of savoury plum sauce I made several years ago still languish in my pantry, so this year I’ll go over to the sweet side. 

 Pickling, bottling and jamming all interest me. I love them in theory, I read recipes in books and online, but I am woefully short on actual jam making experience. I consult Pam the Jam, author of the River Cottage book on preserving. She has a fairly basic recipe for plum jam – just plums and sugar. I decide that this can be improved on so I set to work on creating plum, orange and star anise jam. I cut, weigh and boil fruit and sugar to Pam’s instructions. But I add orange juice and carefully counted strips of zest and star anise. I put the fruit on to cook, slowly. But I’m overly cautious, Pam says that the jam will reach setting point in 10 – 15 minutes. Thirty minutes, then forty minutes drag by, the house is filled with a sweet spicy aroma, but still the thermometer and plate in the freezer tell me the jam’s not set. Bored (and a little worried) I up the temperature to a rollicking boil and in 10 minutes I’m there – 104°C with a positive crinkle test. My jam will set. I fill hot sterilized jars with warm sweet jam wishing I wasn’t making such a mess.

I’ve made kilos of jam, filling jars I’ve been hoarding in the room of doom for years. I don’t really eat jam so I promptly start giving it away. It feels nice to give a gift I’ve cooked from my own produce. I’m happy. My friends are happy. I decide that maybe next year I’ll show the tree a little tenderness, but with my black thumbs that might not be a good idea.

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We can harvest a wide range of fruits and nuts locally each season.

Local fruit and/or nut gardeners are invited to make additions or suggest modifications to the following work-in-progress compiled by Lizzie Connor.


Across the mountains: loquat, mulberry, rhubarb, strawberry and (in late spring) raspberry

Best in the lower mountains: avocado, jaboticaba, lemonade


Across the mountains: apricot, blueberry, boysenberry, cherry, currant (red, black, white), gooseberry, kumquat, loganberry, loquat, mulberry,nectarine, peach, plum, raspberry, rhubarb, strawberry and (in late summer) almond, apple, fig, hazelnut, passionfruit, pear (incl. nashi), pomegranate, youngberry

Best in lower mountains:lemon (Eureka), lemonade, lime, mandarin, orange, persimmon (non-astringent) and (in late summer) avocado, babaco, macadamia, rockmelon, wampee, watermelon

Best in upper mountains: jostaberry, lemon (Meyer), persimmon (astringent)


Across the mountains: almond, apple, chestnut, feijoa, fig, grape, hazel, kiwi fruit, kumquat, medlar, olive, passionfruit, pear (incl. nashi), plum, quince, raspberry (some), rhubarb, strawberry, strawberry guava, walnut

Best in lower mountains: avocado, babaco, cherimoya, grapefruit, lemon (Eureka), macademia, monstera deliciosa, orange, pine nut, pistachio, rockmelon, tamarillo, walnut, watermelon, white sapote

Best in upper mountains: lemon (Meyer), mandarin (Satsuma)


Across the mountains: apple, hazelnut, kiwi fruit, kumquat, pear (incl. nashi)

Best in lower mountains: grapefruit, lemon (Eureka), orange, tangelo

Best in upper mountains: avocado (Bacon), lemon (Meyer)