The Cherry Turned Into A Plum.
The twisted and bent trunk of the small tree looked beyond repair, but for some reason Kel and I decided to save it. Kel drove a couple of stakes into the ground and tied the trunk to them. Over the years that followed, the tree grew slowly and developed a sturdy trunk, though with a decided gnarled twist at the center. At that time, we had thought the tree a variety of wild cherry based on nothing more than the riot of small pink blossoms that flourished early in spring, the dark and speckled bark and the small leaves. The 2-inch thorns were troubling, but the tree was “wild” after all.
Late this spring when we checked on the “cherry” tree we saw that it was covered with fruit in various stages of ripeness. It made for quite a pretty picture. But it wasn’t until Kel popped one of the pale, slightly pink, slightly orange orbs – like the color of sunrise on a hazy summer morning – into his mouth that I decided to find out exactly what we were dealing with. I was convinced that within minutes he would be doubled over in acute gastrointestinal stress. He wasn’t and in fact, he thought that the tart fruit tasted pretty good.
A quick online search revealed that we hadn’t rescued a cherry tree those many years ago, nor a trash tree producing poisonous fruit, but an Oklahoma native called a sand or Chickasaw plum. They’re known for growing contentedly in terrible soil, under blazing sun, and in drought conditions. In other words, the perfect tree for Oklahoma summers. They can be found in pastures and along roadsides and the old-timers harvest the fruit – braving the gauntlet of sword-like thorns that bristle from every branch – to make sweet sand plum jams and jellies.
When we moved to Oklahoma twelve years ago, I had visions of spending late summer days stirring pots of bubbling fruit and flash cooking fresh vegetables, prepping them for canning. I imagined pantry shelves lined with jewel-colored jars filled with blueberry, blackberry, and mulberry jams, green string beans, and tomatoes waiting to be devoured on blustery winter days when all color and life had drained from the outdoors. It didn’t quite work out that way. But I determined that this year, 2019, I would preserve at least one thing. I would fire up the water bath canner, sterilize the glass jars and lids, and gather all of the implements needed. When I saw the bounty of fruit on that little sand plum tree, I knew I was going to realize my goal.
So, each day for about two weeks, I walked up to the plum tree and harvested the fruit. Some afternoons Kel helped pick as Ike and Willa sniffed around under the tree. The ripe plums fell invitingly and helpfully right into our hands at the slightest touch. Some, seeing their pals dropping into our containers, voluntarily released themselves from their flimsy tethers on the branches and rolled down the grassy slope where we scooped them up. Dozens of spiders made their homes among the branches. Underneath the tree there was evidence of late night feasting, some other creature enjoying the tender fruit (though not the pits nor skin).
I washed the plums each day and froze them in batches until I had three bulging bagfuls of them. I needed a lot of plums before embarking on my canning project. But, boy, was I hankering to get a sneak preview of sand plum jelly! A test run was in order. Hence, a [very] small batch refrigerator jelly was born. I’m happy to report that with the right amount of sweetening, a truly yummy jelly can be produced. One that I can spread with pride on scone, biscuit, or slice of toast. By the way, in its just-cooked (liquid) state, it would make a fantastic “syrup” for waffles or pancakes.
The Recipe, Ingredients, and Some Suggestions.
To make this jelly, you’ll need a few “special” ingredients: kuzu powder, erythritol, and stevia syrup. Alternatively, you could try using arrowroot powder or cornstarch (just don’t boil too long or the thickening will loosen) in place of the kuzu. Check out this handy substitution guide. And if you aren’t avoiding it as I am, sweeten to taste using cane sugar.
For another of my “foraging” recipes, check out my wild blackberry pie recipe from last month.
A couple of things to keep in mind:
- When adding the kuzu mixture, that beautiful gem-like color of the jelly will turn cloudy. Don’t worry. As the mixture heats the cloudiness disappears. You’ll soon have a brew that resembles shiny orange marmalade.
- When I say “small batch,” I mean it. This recipe yields a generous one cup. Double the recipe if you have enough fruit to spare.
- Why do I add a grated Granny Smith? Tart green apples have pectin (more so than sweet apples) which helps the jelly firm up.
- Finally, I twice-cook the mixture to further thicken it and concentrate that plummy flavor.
- As noted in the recipe itself, I’ve made this substituting white wine for the apple juice and replacing the orange peel with finely minced fresh mint. Fantastic combination of flavors.
This recipe is for you if you want to make homemade plum jelly without sugar and without the time and effort it takes to make a large batch of “real” preserves. Feel free to substitute sugar for the erythritol and stevia.
Set a fine-mesh strainer over a medium-sized bowl and have a potholder at the ready. You’ll set the hot saucepan on it. In a small measuring cup, dissolve the kuzu powder in 2 ounces of the apple juice. Finally, have a small glass jam/jelly jar ready.
In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the sand plums and shredded apple in the remaining 4 ounces of apple juice over medium-high heat. Cook for 6-8 minutes, keeping it at a nice simmer. As the plums cook, press gently with the back of a large spoon or a potato masher to liberate the skins and pits from the flesh. Stir in the stevia syrup and the erythritol.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and place on the potholder. Ladle a large spoonful of the plum mixture into the strainer and press the fruit pulp/skins/seeds to extract the liquid. Once you’ve gotten as much goodness out of the pulp as possible, remove the pits/skins and discard. Continue in this fashion until you’ve processed all of the pulp. Some of the apple shreds will remain – no biggie – they look nice and will add some texture to the final product.
Now, return the extracted liquid to the saucepan. Heat on medium-high and stir in the kuzu-water mixture. Bring the liquid to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is very thick. Stir in the orange peel, if using. Carefully pour the jelly into the glass jar. Let cool completely, then put in the refrigerator for 8+ hours to set completely.
I’ve made this substituting white wine for the apple juice and it’s delicious. Omit the orange peel and stir in a teaspoon of finely chopped mint – fabulous.
Keywords: jelly, jam, fruit jelly, fruit jam, plums, wild plums, wild fruit, foraging, sugar-free, pectin, easy, quick
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