Thursday, October 4, 2012

Damson Plums: Jam and Drunk

My Damson plum tree had a bumper crop last year and again this year – and then at the end of the ripening season it seems to have died back.  The whole thing isn’t dead – there is still some greenery on it, but as a result of the die back (which I can only hope is normal and not disease or something like that.) I can’t count on getting any plums next year.

 Last year’s plums were picked and processed just before I moved into the house.  I boiled them down, removed the stones and (most of) the skins and then froze the results – which I processed into a batch of applesauce this year.

This year’s plums were picked and frozen with a plan to make jam.

I did, however, puncture a bunch of them, fill a mason jar and cover that with vodka and some sugar.  The resulting item was then shaken daily for about a month and then put into a cupboard to sit until today when I decanted that…

But first, the jam:

I did some online research and located a very simple looking recipe for plum jam using damsons.  Plums, water and sugar (no pectin as I am told that plums have plenty of pectin in them & don’t actually need it to be added to make it set.

We shall see about that.

Anyhow, last night I pulled the plums (and the rhubarb) out of the freezer, put the plums into my big stock pot to boil down today and then let them sit out overnight to thaw.  After grocery shopping and lunch, I came home and turned the heat on low to start getting the plums ready to make jam.

De-stoning and de-skinning plums is not as simple as it was with the apples. The food mill may have worked, but I ended up letting the mass cool and getting jelly bags through which to smoosh the glop and get the juice and flesh without the added stones and skin.

VERY messy (you’re actually supposed to just let gravity do its thing, but I’m not patient enough for that and so I “helped” – thus the messy and no pictures. What also didn’t help the process for me was that every time I got my hands in to start smooshing, an animal was at the door wanting in or out.


Anyhow, once smooshed I ended up with roughly 16 cups of processed fruit to make jam with. Added sugar boiled boiled and more boiled and then into the sterilized jars, sealed and processed as per the instructions on the recipe.  I am now listening to the lids pop and praying the jam actually sets.  One site I reviewed said that:

If you don’t want to invest any additional work in that jam, all you have to do is change expectations. If it’s just sort of runny, call it preserves. If it’s totally sloshy, label it syrup and move on with your life.

I love it and am stealing the thought. I’m hoping I end up with Jam, but if I don’t preserves and / or syrup will also work ha ha ha! There is, or course, suggestions for what to do with it if you can’t live with preserves or syrup, but I’ll just use whatever it happens to turn into and gift it as such (grin)

On to the drunk plums. I also decided to decant them while I was being all messy and had my hands wet from washing off previous goop. This I let drip out while I was getting my chicken into the oven. I’m having roast chicken tonight, chicken pot pie tomorrow and making soup stock so I can make soup before I go back to work.

All I can say about the drunk plums is W-O-W. This is a taste that has to be experienced to be believed. It’s mostly liquid and I don’t anticipate trying to thicken it up (and ruin it) so I am thinking this will be something to be tippled lightly with and maybe mixed into ginger-ale for fruity-boozy goodness.

With love across the waters,

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Apple Tree

I’ve been in the throes of processing apples for the last couple of days and through all of this effort I have determined that I have a tiered system for sorting my apples.

Tier 1: Compost. This is the group of apples that have been damaged, bird pecked, fallen and been badly bruised (or used by a gorgeous Belgian Shepherd as a ball, and therefore generally chewed, slobbered on, chased and barked at) or otherwise not suitable for any other type of processing I may want to look at.

Tier 2: Juicing. Weirdly shaped or just generally far too small to bother with. I have a small box of these which I will take to my brother’s house in a couple of weeks when we have their “family juicing day” and just add them to the gleanings from their tree.

Tier 3: Keepers.  These are the ones I have been processing -  generally of good size, relatively blemish and bruise free (unless I dropped while picking) and suitable for eating, making into applesauce, slicing up and freezing for winter pie and crisp baking and giving away.

As I come to the end of the tree (well, the end of picking all of the fruit off of it) I look at what I have processed so far, what I have readied for autumn, winter and spring consumption (if I have any left by summer I would be very surprised) and I am thrilled with what I have managed to glean from it this year. There has been very little in the way of compostable (or juicable) apples from the tree – which I partially credit to having thinned out the fruiting spurs this past spring.  

For such a small tree, it’s sure given me a big supply of nourishment for the next few months!

All right – I should get back outside, get the ladder and get the last of the apples off the tree.  Frost has been making an appearance in the mornings this week and I think I would be best served by finishing this project. You know, before I start making the jam!

With love across the waters,

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sumac Begone!

Today marks the official end of the epic tale of me versus the Sumac Stump. I know I will have future sumac-related tales for you – there is, after all, a second sumac that was planted on the property – I cut it down and have been fighting with its runners this summer as well, but the bulk of my fight with the sumac was because of the big one that was directly outside the back door when I moved in.

Overgrown sumac with clematis tangled up in it
About Three weeks after I moved in, Mum & Dad came up for the day (and brought Grandma with them) to have a visit.  Dad also brought work clothes with him and helped me cut back the sumac tree to a stump.  This spring and summer I have spent time pulling up roots, digging out roots, hacking at the damn stump with my mattock and generally making a dent on it.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to dig out around the thing (and promptly punctured a perimeter drain pipe I had no idea was there!) and got to the point where I found out that although it does have a tap root per se, the tap root on this sort of shoots off to the side and up under the concrete slab poured some time ago for my current patio.

The Stump.  At the right of the stump is the rhizome.
On the left is the punctured perimeter drain pipe.
I came inside and Googled sumac trees (thank God for Google!) and learned that (like irises) sumac actually grow from a rhizome. In addition to that (also like irises) they shoot up new trees out of the length of rhizomes they send out – so a single planted tree can sprout up hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of additional trees.


At that point I went back outside, hacked at the rhizome a few more times (it was  about nine inches around), gave up, filled all of the dirt back into the hole I had created and vowed to slap any human I know who voluntarily planted a sumac! I called Mum & Dad that night and sounded off to them about it as well.

Dad told me they would come up again in a couple or three weeks’ time and, if I dug out AROUND the root (and under it,) he would bring his chainsaw up with him and we could cut through the root with that.  Knowing they were coming up today, I dug out around it yesterday.  All my hard work a few weeks ago was rewarded in that digging around it back out today was easier as the soil was nice and loose - and since we have has almost no rain; it is also dry and light.

I did, in the process, come across all sorts of pieces of broken pottery and glass, some old nails; a plastic child’s toy grenade (that nearly made me pee myself in that split second it took me to realize it was plastic,) a chunk of what could possibly original clay pipe and what looks like the corner cap from a very old cook stove. I also discovered that, contrary to what I once thought, I could NEVER be an archaeologist. I do not have the patience to sit in a hole and slowly unearth things one layer at a time. Last night and this morning confirms this newfound revelation as I have extremely sore muscles from digging while contorted into awkward positions.

The state of the stump, however, was better.  I had dug out around and below it to the point where I think I may have also discovered a very old layer of brick. I chopped and hacked at yet more roots discovered (and filled yet another wheelbarrow load of the damn things!) and left the stump in a state where it reminded me of a loose tooth.  I could wriggle it around without too much effort.  The rhizome being, I believed, the only thing still holding it in place.

It was!

Mum & Dad arrived, Dad changed into work clothes and pulled out his chainsaw… down into the hole and whizzed through the Rhizome in about three seconds flat… Rhizome cut, the stump fell over! How cool is that!

Rhizome cut, stump flopped!
A little more digging done, Dad pulled out a few more roots for me and then we hefted the stump into my trusty wheelbarrow, ran some water through the perimeter drain pipe to ensure that all of the additional dirt I lodged into it was flushed, covered the holes back up and then all three of us pushed the dirt back into place. Dad did comment to me how impressed he was at the depth I had dug the hole.  I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with myself over that – it was a deep hole!

Dirt back in place, hosed patio and then lattice to prevent
Jasmine from using it as a motorway. At the top of this
picture is my covered over garlic bed. 
Wheelbarrow full of stump and more roots
and Dad's gloves crowning the pile! 
Mum & I also got my garlic planted – 16 cloves - then we headed out for another gorgeous lunch at Mar’s on Main – I stuck with what I had last time (Greek wrap with calamari) and we came back for cake and coffee. I made an applesauce cake with my own applesauce last night and have, woo hoo, discovered a recipe I can bake, cool, and freeze!

Mum & Dad also brought up a whole pile more canning jars gleaned from my Grandpa’s basement.  A good wash out & sterilize and I’ll be ready to can up more applesauce!  I’m going to try to get out there and pick more apples this afternoon and get some more applesauce onto the stove and cooking… I’m thinking I should be able to get the applesauce cooked down and get at least one batch canned tonight before bed – the rest I will baggie up when it cools and freeze.

What’s next to be done? My Damson Plum has died back and my pear tree is overgrown, so some serious tree pruning will need to be done.  I also have shrubbery in the back yard that is now WAY too tall for me to properly enjoy – so the next Mum & Dad Day’s projects will include some much lighter work in getting these things done.

All in all, it’s been a productive weekend so far and, since it’s only 2:00 in the afternoon, I still have time to get more done!

With love across the waters,