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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Wild Yellow Plums and Pineapple - Experiments, Results and 5 Spice

Plum and Pineapple Jam, three ways.
1. Cooked with Sure Jell  2. Without Sure Jell, 45 minutes  3. Without Sure Jell, 60 minutes

I started thinking about this post last week. On Friday, I happened to be at the California State Fair during the jam and jelly judging! Miss Paula was so patient and kind and listened with courtesy as I geeked out over flavor, set, appearance etc. I learned something very important that day - I can do this! I thought I had to have some sort of perfection going on, but anyone can enter and it appears they did. I have to wonder if some were damaged during shipping during hot weather, but many were poorly set, incorrectly presented or just plain unsafe. Interestingly, just about every entry that wasn't disqualified got a ribbon. They score the first round on the Danish System, which means that each product is scored on a matrix and at our fair, 90-100 is first place (blue ribbon), 80-89 is a second place ribbon and 79-80 is a third place ribbon. I hate to say it, but I don't know the colors of the second and third place ribbons. The first place, blue ribbon is the only one I heard them identify. After the scoring is completed, the first place products are judged against each other for best of class and best of show.

So, jams that were too soft, too hard, had the wrong head space, or had fruit floating were all docked points. Flavor was often addressed and I noted that when more than one fruit is used, the attention is on balance. Also, when other flavor agents are used, such as spices or booze, there is a fine point where the enhancement goes too far and overpowers the rest of the flavors. 

I've had all this learning and confirmation of what I've discovered! Also, This came right when I was preparing to share these different methods and how they turned out for me. My mom has several wild plum trees on her property. I used these after they had been frozen when I first posted about plum and pineapple jam. Thank goodness, this year I was able to hit it when they were perfectly ripe. You will see the beautiful color I was looking for, but couldn't achieve with the frozen fruit.

From the other side...

1. This one has 1/2 of a very large pineapple, peeled and chopped fine, plum pulp added to equal 6 1/2 cups fruit, 4 1/2 cups sugar and one packet of Sure Jell. I used the pink box for reduced sugar. I like the flavor of this very much and it is similar to what I would do with canned pineapple. As you can see, the  bright color is better maintained by the short cooking time. However, the short cooking time also contributes to fruit floating because there isn't enough time for the air to be replaced with the sugar solution. This will be just fine for our family and friends, but I wouldn't consider this suitable to be submitted for judging.

2. This one has the same proportions as above, but without the Sure Jell pectin. Plums are supposed to be one of those fruits that has quite a bit of it's own pectin. Perhaps I didn't cook it long enough. It's pretty much syrup. Now, jams that end up being syrup are not a problem at my house. My mom likes my runny jam on her pancakes more than maple syrup. I will also use this on my yogurt. The flavor is still very nice.

3. This is a little more like it. This is 4 cups chopped pineapple, plum pulp added to equal 8 cups fruit, and 5 1/2 cups sugar. I used a spice ball to infuse 5 spice - cinnamon, ginger, star anise, clove and black pepper. The star anise is a bit strong, but it is a lovely, deep flavor and is destined to glaze a pork loin sometime very soon. This cooked a full hour before it tested right on a frozen saucer. This, and the spices, gave it a darker color. The good news is that the pineapple is evenly distributed and the set is very nice. I'm reminded that one of the benefits of not being tied into a pectin packet recipe is that you can use the amounts of fruit you have. As long as your acid is good and you have enough sugar to set, you can go for it.

Here are some close-ups of the results:

1. Commercial pectin - A nice set, glossy and spreadable.

2. No commercial pectin - Syrup. Tasty, but not cooked long enough.

3. No commercial pectin - Enhanced with 5 spice. Nice set. Not as bright in color or flavor, but deep and complex.

I hope my little experiments will help you to learn as I have learned. With gallons of free fruit, it's easier to decide to experiment and risk a failure. While not all of these came out perfectly, none is a failure and all will be enjoyed.

Wild Plum and Pineapple Jam with 5 Spice
One large, ripe pineapple, chopped small and crushed - about 4 cups
Plum pulp added to equal 8 cups fruit
5 1/2 cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
1 star anise
a slice of fresh ginger - about 1/4 inch thick
1/2 tsp. whole black pepper corns

Prepare the boiling water bath and 6 half-pint jars and lids. Place some saucers and teaspoons in the freezer.

Add the fruit and sugar to a large pot. Place the spices in a wire mesh tea ball. You will have to break up the cinnamon stick and you may have to cut the ginger down into pieces that will fit. Add the tea ball with the spices and bring to a boil. Boil gently, stirring frequently for about 60 minutes. Increase the frequency of stirring in the last 15 minutes to prevent scorching. When the jam has thickened and the foam as subsided, scoop a small amount of jam onto one of the frozen spoons and place it back on the saucer in the freezer. After a minute, tip the spoon and push it with your finger. If it mounds up and the surface wrinkles a bit, the jam is done. 

Remove from the heat. Skim any remaining foam. Allow to stand a few minutes and stir gently a few times. This will help distribute the bits of pineapple. 

Carefully ladle into hot, prepared jars. Wipe the rims and top with the prepared lids rings. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Carefully remove to a towel lined tray. Allow them to set overnight before labeling and storing. 

This made 5 half pints, plus a little extra.

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