Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How to Make Mirabelle Plum Jam...and refrigerator pickles

Being the third summer into my rejuvenating an once neglected garden, it is encouraging to see plans being realised.  An eight-foot square patch right off the patio was once just nettles and thistles, and now is fairly covered with heather, abelia, bearded irises, zinnas, dianthus, perennial geraniums, and sedum.

Bees love the graceful, sparkling abelia in the centre as much as I do

The Charentais melons are getting close to harvesting.  I use pieces of terracotta roofing tiles to protect these luscious, smooth-skinned cantaloupes from rotting on moist ground.

August is proving to be very hot, but Dayo knows how to stay cool.  He strolls into the sous sol, opens one of the base cupboards, and settles down comfortably.

Mirabelles are a much loved plum variety in France.  These golden fruits are referred to as cherry plums because they are the same size and are often flushed with red.  I had to chuckle while reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog because these are the plums used in the cherry plum test.

Being such prolific producers, even in this year with greatly diminished fruit harvests, I was able to pick about nine pounds/four kilos.   I added some chopped ginger and lemon juice when making my first batch of Mirabelle jam--keeping batches small helps to retain the fresh flavour because less time is spent boiling.  Mirabelles have a spicy undertone, and I wanted to heighten that even more.   Though it turned out fine, I will make the second batch plain as I did last season.  Since Mirabelles have such a complex flavour--peach, cinnamon, and honey notes--this jam works very well with just Mirabelles in all their glory.  Since the consistency of this jam is also like honey, it goes well over a stack of buttered pancakes.

Please refer to these general instructions before making this jam.  Wash the Mirabelles, halve them, and pit.  Weigh out  2 kilos (4.4 pounds).

Because there is more pectin in plums than in strawberries, there is less need for sugar in this jam than for my strawberry jam.  However, this is still a very sweet jam as I prefer sweet over the dulling effect of additional pectin while getting a jam with body. With such an intense flavour, I use a very small amount at a time. Add 1400 mg of sugar gradually and stir until well mixed and leave in the fridge overnight.  The next morning all that sugar will have pulled out some wonderful juices. 

The next morning, clean jars and lids and get equipment ready.  I used three 600 ml jars and one 350 ml.

In a suitable sized non-aluminum pot, bring the macerated fruit to a rolling boil lasting about 20 minutes, using the sheet test starting after 15 minutes to determine the moment of setting. 

Lots of foam in the beginning

Eventually when jam is close to being finished, most of the foam will be gone and the fruit will become shiny.

Skim off any remaining foam which can be eaten as it is delicious but it's not safe for preserving

Pour into jars, tightly and carefully screw on lids, turn over while protecting hands with pot holders/mitts and leave to cool completely.  They will keep in the fridge for a year.

As the cucumber patch is winding down for the season, my focus is more on pickling than eating them fresh.  In that case, I only harvest cucumbers smaller than four inches.

Refrigerator pickles are easy to make and very delicious.  Flavourings are many and varied, so include what you have and like.  I noticed that the only spice in the rather snooty Maille brand cornichons are mustard seeds which comes off as too sedate for my tastes.  Some lively additions could be: bay leaves, garlic, pearl onions, crushed black peppercorns, fennel, dill, freshly ground nutmeg, chopped ginger, cardamon,  red pepper flakes, and whole cloves.  Use about a teaspoon or so of spice for each  600 ml/3/4 quart jar.  If using crushed or minced fine spices, you will need less.

First make a brine.  Bring a quart of water to a boil, take off the burner, and stir in 3 tablespoons of fleur de sel (or coarse salt) till dissolved.  When cool--to avoid inhaling stinging vinegar vapours--add in 3/4 cup of white vinegar.  For mine, I line the bottom of clean jars with fresh fennel, pack in the small cucumbers (I do a dry trial first), pop in a spilt garlic glove, 1/4 tsp fresh ginger, some red pepper flakes or 1/8  tsp crushed black peppercorns, 1/4 tsp crumbled bay leaf, 1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg, and top with more fresh fennel.

As I have a seven-foot high fennel plant, I use that instead of dill

Pour in the brine, making sure all cukes are completely in the brine and cover jars loosely with plastic, letting the pickles sour for several days at room temperature.  Tiny pickles will sour faster than larger ones.  Dulling of the bright green colour is an indication that souring is taking place. Then tightly screw on lids and place in the fridge where they will keep nicely for several months.  If you have left over brine, keep it in the fridge for future use but do not reuse already used brine.  These make wonderful low caloric, crunchy, tasty snacks and accompaniments to sandwiches and cold meats.