Last year, I bought a small amount of damson plums for the first time from the farmers market with no real idea as to what they would taste like. I was initially attracted to how beautiful they were – small, delicate and such a gorgeously deep indigo blue. “They are no good for eating,” the farmer at the stand told me. Alright then, maybe they would be good for cooking? I gave one a taste and just as the farmer said, definitely not good for eating. Unlike the plums that you usually find in stores, these plums are not especially juicy and definitely not sweet. Appealing right? Well those exact same characteristics makes this plum ideal for cooking and jams. The harder flesh secretly contains a super concentrated plum flavor that is complex. Initially tart, once cooked it reveals a multifaceted play between tart and sweet. It makes some of the best plum jam, I’ve ever tasted.
This year I could not wait until these little jewels came back into the market. I was a little worried that the wouldn’t be available this year, because I had heard that the cold from earlier this year wiped out much of the stone fruits in the Hudson Valley. Luckily they did appear and I wanted to make a very special jam with these.
This jam is not only about indulging your sense of taste, three elements in this recipe also makes this jam an amazing indulgence for your nose. The first is one of my favorite herbs, lemon verbena. As its name indicates, the first thing you will notice is the a familiar lemon citrus flavor. But this is not an aggressive bang over the head flavor of lemon peels, instead it’s a heady floral perfume that is slowly released into the jam as the herb steeps in the plum mixture during maceration. If you cannot find lemon verbena, lemon thyme, though different, would also be nice here. To further the lemon floral notes, I next added in Meyer lemon peel. Thought to be a cross between lemons and madarin oranges, the Meyer lemon’s peels have a spicy fragrance that tastes and smells more like an herb. The final ingredients is one of my favorite liquors, mezcal. The smoke and spices in mezcal add something mysterious to the jam. Open up a jar of this stuff and immediately you will ask yourself what is this amazing scent you are smelling. I’m thinking next time I will need to concoct an actual cocktail too. Seriously, make this jam and slather is along with burrata over some crusty bread.
B U R R A T A W I T H M E Z C A L D A M S O N P L U M J A M
makes 4 8.5-ounce jars
4 pounds damson plums (approximately 3 pounds cored), or a combination of Italian plums and sweet plums
1/3 cup lemon verbena, chopped
3/4 pound raw sugar
2 Meyer lemons, zest
pinch of salt
1/4 cup mezcal, divided
your favorite crusty bread
Core and quarter the plums. If they are large plums, cut them into eighths. In a ceramic or glass bowl, combine the cut plums with the lemon verbena, sugar, and Meyer lemon zest. Mix well and allow to sit on the kitchen counter for an hour. Then continue to macerate in the refrigerator overnight for at least 8 hours.
Use a wide bottomed pan with low and flared sides. Divide the plums into at least 2 batches. The number of batches will depend on the size of your pan. Quick cooking, low sugar jam relies on small batch cooking. Add the plum mixture and some of the juices, so that there is a tight single layer of fruit, in the pan. Bring to a boil over high heat and then turn the stove down to medium high. Add a pinch of salt and half of the mezcal. Cook for 8 -10 minutes, stirring every so often with a rubber spatula. As the fruit begins to soften, use the spatula to smash the plums. Depending on the texture of the plums being used, you can also stop the cooking midway and use a food processor to roughly chop them up further. The goal here is to create a cohesive texture that still has chunky bits of fruit. The jam is ready when you can draw a ravine down the fruit mixture and it only fills back up slowly. Repeat with the rest of the fruit.
This can then be kept in the refrigerator in jars or if you choose to process them, follow the below steps.
While the fruit is cooking, thoroughly clean glass jam jars with soap and warm water. Add them to a pot and cover with water. Bring to a rolling boil. Carefully remove the jars from the pot with tongs. Do not touch the inside or lip with your fingers. Fill each jar up with jam leaving a 1/2 inch headspace at the top. Cover tightly with lids and return back to the pot of water. Make sure the whole of each jar is submerged in the water, bring back to a boil and process for 15 minutes. Remove from the pot and allow to cool on the counter. You will hear a popping noise from the jars as the jam cools. This means that they are properly sealed. If any of the jars aren’t sealed fully, simply store in the refrigerator.
To serve, spoon over fresh burrata and eat with your favorite crusty bread.
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