Plum Butter in a Slow Cooker

We were suspicious that our plum tree would not bear fruit this year, so last year I made enough plum jam to get us through two seasons. So when I was surprised by another bumper crop of plums, I had to think of a way to use them up. This recipe for blueberry butter inspired me to try to work up a plum butter.

When I was in college, I once had the great idea to make apple butter for cheap Christmas presents. It was a disaster. I had to move out of that apartment to avoid the splattery mess that I had made. Scarred from that experience, I was naturally intrigued by the idea of making fruit butters in a slow cooker instead of on the stovetop. There’s a lot of interesting suggestions out there, but I couldn’t find one for plum butter. I looked around, read a few different sources, and decided to come up with my own recipe. Using advice from Stocking Up on the processing part, I feel happy enough with the results that I’ll probably never make plum jam again. My plum butter is thick and spunky. I have been enjoying it on toast alone or mixed with fromage blanc.

Makes 4 cups of plum butter.

about 3 1/2 pounds of plums
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

  1. Wash plums, cut into halves, and pit. My plums were rather small. If you have large ones, you might want to quarter them, but I don’t think that it will matter in the end.
  2. Place the sugar and plums in your slow cooker. Stir. Leave this mixture to cook for 16 hours. Stir whenever you think of it. I began my butter about 7pm. I stirred it a few times and then left it unattended overnight.
  3. Add vanilla. Based on advice in Stocking Up, flavorings for fruit butters should be added at the end. Cinnamon might be a nice pairing here, but I decided mine was potent enough without it.
  4. Process in a hot water bath for ten minutes. For canning advice, go here.
  5. Remove jars to a flat rack to cool.

Recipe update (7/13):
I made this recipe this year with beautiful, juicy yellow plums. Because they were so wet, I found that cracking the crockpot lid open was essential. Lay a wooden spoon across one side to create a little vent for the moisture to escape. I also found that it took almost exactly 24 hours to cook down. I stirred often towards the end of the time. The plums were clingstone, so the pits were a little more difficult to deal with. I skimmed them out after it had cooked down a bit and wound up putting it through the food mill. I did this and let it cook for about an hour more. This was a lot more fussier than the original recipe, but had great results. Many thanks to all the commentors below who shared their experiments. 

Kitchen Scraps

  • It’s fall! We’ve been doing a lot of preserving lately and our pantry is satisfyingly filling peaches in light syrupup with glass jars of delicious fruits and veggies. I’ve been relying on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website and recommend it to anyone who is looking to begin a canning project. So far, we’ve canned: pears in light syrup, pear sauce, peaches in light syrup, tomato sauce, ketchups, pickles, and jams.
  • Anne was a guest blogger on A Year in Bread, which has begun a series of Friday Favorites. It’s been great to read about others’ favorite, stand-by bread recipes. Check it out!
  • Perhaps the most bizarre island tradition can be found next week at the Bainbridge Island farmer’s market: the great zucchini race! You won’t want to miss it. While you’re at the market, look for more ways to prepare for winter: winter csa sign ups at Persephone and Butler Green Farms and Laughing Crow’s list for winter storage potatoes. Don’t forget to buy extra for your freezer.
  • The Day Rd. pumpkin patch is now open. It’s hard to believe it’s time for jack-o-lanterns. Why not make it a local one? The field is full now of pumpkins and, over the next few weeks, it will be fun to watch them disappear.
  • The next time that you go to visit the troll, have a sandwich at this new-ish Fremont lunch place: Homegrown. Seattle is a hard town to find a great sandwich in and Homegrown eclipses all expectations – local, organic, and scrumptiously delicious. Their sandwiches are just innovative enough to be intriguing but also rather predictable, as sandwiches should be. Here’s a recent review.

How to Make Plum Jam

plum jamWe’re lucky to have a plum tree that provides an ample harvest every two years. The last time it was ‘fruitful,’ I wasn’t prepared at all and wound up making way too many plum cakes. This year, I was ready. I did my research, gathered my jars, and made jam. A whole lot of it.

This recipe doesn’t use pectin and has a lot of sugar. Adjust the amount according to the tartness of your available plums. Mine are very tart, almost inedible alone.

Makes 16 half-pint jars.

8 pounds of small plums, rinsed
4 cups of water
12 cups sugar (adjust according to sweetness of plums)
1/2 cup lemon juice

  1. Prepare yourself for canning. Read through the general guidlines on NCHFP’s site. For jam, equipment that you’ll need includes: medium canner with rack, tongs, canning funnel, jars and lids.
  2. Prepare your area. Wash the jars and rings in the dishwasher, leaving them inside to stay warm. Rinse your lids in mild soap and water and place in a saucepan with a few inches of water. Keep these warm on low heat. Fill your canner about two-thirds full of water. (You can also keep a teapot of water on medium, just in case you find that you need to replenish the water in the canner.)Bring plums and water to a boil.
  3. In a large pot, bring plums and 4 cups of water to boil over medium. Reduce the heat to low. Cover. Simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. With a potato masher, gently mash the plums. The pits should float to the top. Skim the pits out with a slotted spoon.Skim the pits from the top.
  5. Add sugar and lemon juice.
  6. Pour the hot jam into your sterile jars. If needed, wipe off drips. Use tongs to place the lid. Add the ring and tighten only to just ‘fingertip’ tight. (Think: pour, wipe, lid, ring.)
  7. Place the full jars in the canner. Be sure that you have at least two inches of water over the tops. Process (boil) with the lid on for ten minutes.
  8. Remove jars from canner and place on racks. Be careful not to let the jars touch. Place a dish towel over the top, to slow cooling.Remove the jars to racks.

And now, enjoy your jam whenever you like. A batch of crumpets is probably in order.

Adapted from Well Preserved. Necessary soundtrack for jammin’? A little reggae, of course. Thanks to M, who was the real brains of this operation.

Tips for Eating Locally Through the Winter

With the opening of the farmer’s market this week, I finally feel like winter is over.varitable vegetable variety

So, how did we do? I think we faired much better this winter than last. I’m happy  to say that we just used the last of our storage onions, still have some potatoes left over, and though I haven’t seen them in awhile, there may still be a  few green vegetables in the bottom of the freezer. Oh, how far we’ve come. I’ve been repeatedly told that it’s not true, but last winter, I feel like all we did was eat squash.  This year, we were able to make it through the winter with variety. And so, while it’s still fresh in my mind, I’ll lay out a few things that I learned when I look back on this, our second winter,  of eating locally.  It’s never too early to plan for next year.

How to survive the winter and eat more than squash:

  • Start preserving right away. Each time you go to the market, put a little aside for the winter. Did you get an especially abundant CSA box? Think carefully at the beginning of the week and put away anything that you won’t use. (Don’t wait until the end of the week, when that arugula is wilting.)  This website tells you how to best preserve food, no matter which method you prefer.
  • Learn new skills. Don’t discount a little food project, just because you’ve never done it.  Put canning, dehydrating, and pickling on your list of things to learn. This book is one of our favorites.
  • Swap. Do you have too many beans? Maybe someone else has too many apples. It’s in our natures to keep all that applesauce to ourselves, but really, sharing leads to variety.
  • Constant vigilance. Be on the lookout for food. Read local websites that connect you with farmers. If people know that you’re looking, some delicious things might just come your way.  For our area, I recommend, the KCAA site and  Sound Food.
  • Take field trips. Some markets go year-round. With planning, you can make trips and stock up.  Check out the Seattle markets and our favorite, Ballard’s Sunday market.
  • Start a root cellar. It doesn’t have to be underground or even a real cellar – ours is just a corner of the garage with a fancy thermometer.  Learn what stores well in your temperature and humidity – and unless you want a bag of rotten carrots (er… that never happened to us… no, of course not) learn how to prepare your vegetables for storage.
  • Store food in food. Many things store well in prepared foods, which you can freeze after making.  Put the spinach in a calzone.  Make a tomato sauce from summer’s best.  Put corn in your chicken potpie (though it freezes nicely by itself).  Not only is this a great way to add variety to your meals, but it saves you time on a busy night.

Many thanks to the farmers who were at the market Saturday morning with grins and delicious variety.

Yes, we can can!

Applesauce! Well, I did it. I swallowed my fear and plunged those glass jars in that boiling water. No explosions. No applesauce on the ceiling. Nothing but little happy sealed jars all lined up on my counter. Hooray! I feel like I’ve gone through some rite of passage. I can can!!

A few weeks ago, I saw a posting on the ‘Buy Local Food in Kitsap‘ website hailing the availability of fruit. All One Family Farm had apples and pears available, so I gratefully ordered up 30 pounds. We picked them up from Rob and his daughter this past weekend.  Fruit is back on the menu! Be gone deep, dark winter! The apples are roll-your-eyes-back-in-your-head good, and I’m trying to wait patiently for the pear on my counter to ripen. I made applesauce from 11 pounds of the juicing apples and stored the rest (in paper wrappers and a cardboard box) in the garage.  (“Not near the potatoes and onions!” said R.)

Homemade Applesauce

11 pounds juicing or sauce apples (I’m ashamed to say that I forgot to ask what kind they were.)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

I’d recommend that you thoroughly read through the National Center for Home Food Preservation recipe and recommendations for beginning canners, if you’re new to this, like I was.

  1. Rinse the apples.Prepare yourself. Do you have everything you need? Rack? Jar lifter? (Ok. I used tongs and it was touch and go. I’d recommend spending the extra couple of dollars and getting yourself a jar lifter. While you’re at it, spring for the funnel, too.) Wash your jars, lids, and rings. (I ran the jars through the dishwasher and kept them warm in there until it was time to fill.)
  2. Wash apples. Start slicing. You don’t need to peel the apples or even worry about the core too much. Cut the apples first in half, cut out the stem and the blossom end. Hack the rest into even chunks. Drop the chunks into a pot that is going to be big enough to hold them all.Cut the apples into even chunks.
  3. Add enough water to halfway cover the apples. Cover and bring to a low boil for about 30-45 minutes or until tender (when poked with a butterknife.)
  4. Run the cooked apples, in batches, through a food mill. Run the apples through a foodmill or chinois.(Maybe you’re lucky enough to have an old-fashioned mashing tool, which I now know is called a chinois.) I chose my largest disc; the holes were too small for seeds to fit through. My applesauce was pleasingly chunky.
  5. Return the sauce to the pot, mix in sugar and cinnamon to taste. Bring the sauce to a boil and prepare to fill jars!
  6. Process according to your jar directions or NCHFP’s directions. I processed my pint size jars in boiling water for 20 minutes.  I made sure that my rings were on but not tightly screwed down on the lids.
  7. Spread out the jars on a cooling rack and try not to impatiently poke them. Wait about 12 hours before storing.

Many thanks to my friend, A., who is an experienced applesauce maker and who, over the phone, talked me down from panic midway through the process.