I do love a glut of produce and the opportunity it provides for trying out new recipes. It's a little inconvenient when the glut comes at Christmas time and you are a little distracted cooking and eating a Christmas feast, opening presents and being with family. That's why we found ourselves preserving apricots and plums on Boxing Day. For weeks we'd been watching the clusters of apricots and plums on the trees plumping up nicely, becoming ever so slightly soft to the touch, and tasting deliciously warm and sweet. But we couldn't do anything about it until Boxing Day.
The plum tree is an embarasment to plum trees. We had talked about chopping it down, it was so deformed by an unsympathetic room addition before our time. The room ends right against the trunk of the tree, forcing some of the branches to grow underneath the house, in between the guttering and water tank inlet pipe, and at strange angles as the tree and house battle for position. The tree must have heard us talking because without any husbandry it has delivered its best ever harvest. Trugs and colanders full of plums. Branches laden with plums brushed the grass and lifted off the ground as Isabelle and I picked the plums, removing their weight. I put the word out on Instagram for inspiration about what to do with a plum glut. Suggestions came forward for bottled plums, plum paste, pickled plums, plum leather, plum and almond tart, plum syrup, plum cake, and plum sauce. Sally Clifton, a caterer we rent December pop-up shop space from, gave me her recipe for plum chutney. Our chef friend Nick Cummins, visiting from Hobart told us of his success with plum worcestershire at the Farm Gate Market.
I bought the Nundle Friendly Grocer out of vinegar and brown sugar and set to brewing the plum worcestershire using a recipe by Sally Wise. My sauce was more watery than I would have liked because I didn't have treacle, but I have frozen it so I can reheat it and add the treacle before bottling. Sally Clifton's plum chutney will become a go-to condiment added to a ploughman's lunch with bread, ham and cheese. Just look out for the kick (I added two chillies instead of one-and-a-half).
Tina Rubie of @theforeverfarmhouse posted a pic and recipe for plum syrup, 'Place your plums and equal amounts of white sugar and water into a saucepan. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and let steep for at least 30 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve or muslin cloth. Pour into jars and either heat seal them or refrigerate (use within 14 days if not heat sealing them).' The plum syrup is wonderfully rich, enjoyed as a cordial added to sparkling water, it even forms an impressive head like creaming soda. Perfect for school holiday old school spiders with a scoop of ice cream.
My favourite recipe is the Monday Morning Cooking Club 'Plumb Cake'. I may have used more plums than the recipe called for, which resulted in the happy accident of plums-turned-jam oozing out of the cake as I served it. When drizzled in cream, the oozing didn't matter at all. Three boys asking for seconds can't be wrong.
This morning I couldn't resist exploring the tree for any remnants of fruit. I just about gave up, when my eye became accustomed to the crimson fruit camouflaged against the russet underside of the foliage and spotted branches still to be picked. With the roof of the dog house and eventually a ladder for height, another trug full of plums made its way to the kitchen. I have been reading up on stonefruit recipes in Lunch Lady magazine and Katie Mackay sent me a link to Stephanie Alexander's Mieze's plum cake, so let's hope the unseasonally cool summer days continue so I can bake (with plums) like it's autumn.
Postscipt: The plum tree may survive after all. We are renovating our house in 2016 and the unsympathetic room addition will be pulled down. With careful pruning the plum tree may provide shade and fruit for many summers to come.
I replaced rhubarb with plum in 'Mum's rhubarb and ginger jam' from Sophie Hansen's Local is Lovely book. It is one of best tasting jams I've made:
1kg plums, halved and stoned, 1 1/2 cups raw sugar, zest and juice of 1 lemon, 3cm piece of ginger, grated
Combine the halved and stoned plums, sugar, lemon zest and juice in a large ceramic bowl to macerate for at least an hour. Pour the fruit and sugar mixture into a wide pan and add the ginger. Bring to a rapid boil and stir often for about 10 minutes. Spoon into sterilised jars and seal.
I saved the last plums from our last of three fruiting plum trees to make Thomas Keller and Jessica Bride's Plum Tart, suggested by friend Clare Yazbeck of Slow Diaries blog. Everyone had seconds. Duncan astoundingly had fourths.