Every year, in late August, my neighbours pass a vast sack of crab apples over the wall. They give me their harvest in exchange for half the crab apple jelly I make with it. But not this year. The endless rain put paid to that. I think Jo could probably count the number of apples on her tree they were so few and far between.
However, the plum tree at the bottom of her garden has produced a bumper crop, its branches laden with dark fruit. But because the tree stands behind a robust and spiky rose and the tree’s branches shoot up and over their back fence, away from the garden, we’ve never bothered trying to reach the plums. But this year the thought of our empty jam jars spurred us into action, to say sod it to the rose and the scratches, and get at that fruit. Actually I say us, but beyond saying, “I know it’s a shame about those crab apples, but what about the plums?” I had nothing to do with harvesting them. I am scratch-free.
It turns out that this is the first time anyone has ever tasted these plums and they are very sour indeed – perfect for jam. I cooked them down on a very low heat in a tiny amount of water until they began to fall apart at which point I started picking out the stones.
I had 1.8 kg of fruit to which I added 500g of jam sugar (with added pectin) and 100g of granulated sugar. Although the general guide for jam making is to have equal amounts of fruit and sugar, I think the sugar can sometimes overpower the flavour of the fruit. I’ve been experimenting with smaller and smaller quantities of sugar. So far so good.
And whilst of the subject of sugar, I love the moment when it is added to the thick pulpy fruit which instantly brightens and takes on a jewel-like clarity – in this case a glorious garnet. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t use jam sugar for plum jam as I think the stones add enough pectin, but it was the only sugar I had, apart from the 100g of granulated.
Making jam prompted me to start making my own bread again, something I’ve done only very occasionally over the last six years. Back in London I got into the habit of making several loaves each week having discovered an incredibly easy recipe on a packet of Dove’s flour. I’m not sure why I stopped. Just one of those things, I suppose. But I’ve now established a little routine having worked out a similarly straightforward recipe using a mix of equal amounts of strong white flour and wholemeal flour, both from Waitrose.