When I was a girl, the end of summer was always marked by two events—the week-long feast of the Madonna del’Arco and the canning of the bounty of my grandmother’s garden. My mother and my aunts sat at an oilcloth-covered table under the pergola that supported my grandfather’s grapevines, peeling, slicing and preserving bushels of eggplants and tomatoes that during the winter would become the basis for antipasto and Neapolitan marinara.
It was the memory of my Aunt Susie’s grape jelly that spurred my own initiation into the mysteries of turning ripe produce into preserves. During our sojourn in Germany, one of my husband’s colleagues with an orchard had a bumper crop of plums and shared them with us. I have a wonderful plum tart recipe from my mother-in-law, and made it that night. But I had far too many plums and had to figure out what to do with them before they turned to mush. That is when I remembered Aunt Susie’s paraffin-covered mason jars filled with Grandpa’s grapes and decided one purple fruit was as good as another.
Since that summer twenty years ago I’ve put up plums almost every year, sometimes sharing the weekend-long labor with friends, as my mother and aunts did. My fingers turn purple, my kitchen is sticky and fragrant, and at the end of the day my counter is covered with rows of glistening jars filled with luscious fruit.
30 lbs Italian prune plums
12-15 lbs sugar
· Rinse and slice plums into quarters.
· Layer plums with sugar in a crock or large plastic container, in the proportion of ½ cup sugar for every cup of plums.
· Cover and allow to rest for 12-24 hours.
· Bring the sugar-fruit mixture slowly to a boil and simmer until the fruit is a deep purple and translucent. It’s important to cook the fruit in small batches of 4-6 cups at a time to preserve the best flavor.
· Ladle fruit into hot sterile jars.
· Stir the fruit to remove air pockets.
· Wipe the rim, seal and store in a dark, cool place.
Yield: approximately 24 pounds of preserves (48 8-ounce jars)
2 cups flour
7 ounces butter
½ cup sugar
1 cup ground almonds
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
12 Italian prune plums, sliced thinly
· Blend all ingredients except plums in a food processor or mix by hand.
· Press dough into a 10-inch tart form.
· Bake at 350° for 20 minutes, until firm to the touch.
· Arrange sliced plums in concentric circles on tart base, starting at center and moving out to edges.
· Bake for 10 minutes.
· Allow to cool and remove rim.
· Serve with whipped cream.