What to do with Plums

Plums!

Plums!

A rich, sweet, juicy, tender ripe plum is an amazing experience.  You may remember the  William Carlos Williams poem
This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

-William Carlos Williams

Well, I guess he isn’t too descriptive about the actual plum, beyond cold and sweet, but for me it connects the flavor and texture of a plum with the pleasure of a poem- classic imagist. If you follow my blog, you know how much work I do to get my Methley plum tree to produce usable fruit in a region that is very bug- and fungal pathogen- friendly. This is a classic gardener thing- the harder it is to get something to grow, the more you want it. Methley is a Satsuma type Japanese plum. Satsuma apparently means “cherry,” and the smallish purple- red plums do have the cherry look. The skins are very tender and the juice is delicious and very red.

At this writing I do have a lot of fruit, rapidly perishing from Japanese beetle damage, rain splitting, and brown rot.  Nonetheless I did get a few gallons preserved today. I made plum jam. plum juice, plum ice cream, and plums in syrup. Easy. This is how you do it:

Not too sweet Plum Jam:

Stirring plums through a coarse colander

The coarse colander is the thing

First, you will need a coarse colander, mixing bowl, and a wooden spoon. The coarse colander makes your job so easy.

You will also need clean jars for the jam and clean bottles for the juice. I usually keep mine in the boiling hot attic in bags so they are clean. If I weren’t sure I would run them through the dishwasher. Put the lids in a pot and boil them 15 minutes. Mind they don’t boil dry. Make sure you have tongs to hand to get them out.

plumsPick plums, throwing away rotten ones. If there are little rotten spots or bug chomps, remember, you are going to wash and boil these, so it’s ok to rub away rot and bug chomps in water and use. The plum flesh is so soft that you can rub away anything gross with your thumb in the water. I spray with Surround clay emulsion, which is completely ok to eat but I wash it off anyway. Drain and fill a stockpot with them. You can put in a little water in if you like to prevent sticking but I don’t. The plums will cover with condensation and then dissolve into juicy red loveliness in minutes once you turn on the burner.

Plum Juice: In about 15 minutes you should see the plums sitting in red juice, skins peeled off and yellowish flesh tender. You can go longer- it will only make your plums go through the colander faster. We aren’t trying to preserve texture here. Put your colander in a big mixing bowl and carefully dump the contents of the stockpot into it. Once the juice has drained, put the colander on top of the stockpot while you pour the hot juice carefully into clean bottles. Get the tops out of the boiled water and cap them. Set them to cool. You could sweeten the juice if you like first. We mix it with water or sparkling water unsweetened for us, sweetened with honey for kids. It’s also wonderful in a wine cooler mix. A drop of lemon juice brightens it- selzter turns it dull- remember acid/base indicators in high school chemistry?

Making plum jam

Making plum jam

Plum Jam: Once your juice is bottled, return the colander to the mixing bowl and stir the plums through it. Stir until the pits click in the colander. The longer you stir, the thicker your puree will be and the easier it will be to make a thick jam. Discard the pits. Put the puree in a large pot so you can stir it and cook it down just a little;5 minutes boil Sweeten to taste. Honey is great, but sugar doesn’t interfere with the plum taste. You can use anything, though. The jam is thick enough that you won’t need it to jell. I use a cup of sugar to 4-5 c. pulp and boil it another 5 minutes. I’m sure you can use Stevia.  I use a funnel to put it in the jars so I won’t have to wipe the rims. If you don’t wipe the rims and you have food on them you can’t get a good seal. Put the lids on and tighten.

If you can comfortably and safely do so, invert them for 7 seconds, then quickly unscrew the tops for a fraction of an instant, then tighten again quickly. Don’t burn yourself. This scalds the lids and causes a quick burst of hot air to force its way out, sealing the jar. I have often done no more than this for jams and jellies, skipping the canning step altogether. Nobody recommends this anymore, so I won’t either. Canning is more reliable and it’s not too hard. My grandmother used paraffin- she would pour a 1/4 inch layer of melted wax on the surface of the jam. I remember saving the discs for remelting the next year- yes, I’m sick, I know. Folks used to seal preserves with brown paper soaked in whiskey….

Processing: I use an open hot water bath for acid or sugary things like jams, jellies, preserves, apple sauce, tomatoes, and pickles. I really only get out the pressure canner for low acid foods like beans, meats, and mushrooms. Plum products are acid so the official word is 30 minutes boiling. With jams and jellies which are also preserved with sugar and really don’t need processing at all, 15 minutes. We really are only looking to heat up the airspace  and exhaust some air so that we will have a good seal. If you have a clean jar with no nicks on the rim, a good lid, and hot, sterile contents, and you seal it well, it will keep as long as you can conceivably want it to. I shouldn’t say this, but I have eaten my grandmother’s preserves 15 years old. Don’t try that at home, kids. Of course we are talking about stuff with maximum sugar and/or rum content…..

Plum Ice Cream: I have an ice cream maker that is the easiest thing- no salt or ice. It has a gel canister that is sealed. I leave it in the freezer all the time and just take it out to make ice cream. They ave a recipe book but you can seriously just toss whatever you want in there and it will turn into ice cream or sorbet. Since I make my own yoghurt, this works easily. I just put 2 cups of yoghurt, 2 cups of plum pulp, and honey to taste and switch the thing on. This makes a very tart, plummy ice cream with a wonderful pink color. It is pretty tart but you can add more sweetener during the process since the top is open.

Plum Juice: You will need clean mason jars, lids and rings. Select perfect plums as you work and fit them tightly into the jars. Make a 1/1 sugar syrup, or lighter if you want, bring it to a boil, fill the jars with it, seal and process. A syrup of half honey, half water is wonderful, and lighter than a sugar syrup. I label it as such if I had honey to spare, because it is really special. The fruit skins color the syrup a lovely red. I like to put one in the window. When you open these, you will have a lot of syrup. The fruit rises in it. Spoon out the fruit with some of the syrup and eat with cream or vanilla pudding…..save the rest of syrup to mix with water for a delicious juice drink, or with wine…..mmm.

I have made pickled plums with a sweet vinegar syrup and spices, the way you make pickled peaches, but after a while I thought the spice overwhelmed the plums. On the whole it was a bit medicinal. I prefer honey syrup. The delicate flavors are amazing. Poetical.

 

 

Fungal Blights and Organic Sprays

blog etsy and spring 2013 185 Hi folks- I have been, and am, really busy with the spring garden as well as life so I have a lot backed up to write about!

What was really urgent for me today was saving the plums. If you follow me you know this tree, because I wrote about pruning it earlier. I went ahead and cut down the Santa Rosa, by the way, after it finished blooming. I have planted another plum which should be big enough to pollinate the Methley next spring.

We have had the coldest, wettest spring anyone remembers, – I still have radishes and the first ever Michili (Napa) cabbages! Now that it is warming up, and continuing to rain, the brown rot is hitting my plums hard. Actually, it loves warm humidity even more, but since it is now endemic, it just attacks when the fruit starts to ripen. Brown rot is pretty self descriptive. First you see a small dark bruise on the fruit, then it becomes a brown spot, then the spot spreads, and finally it creates little powdery bumps all over the rotten fruit. That’s when it is sporulating and contaminating more fruit.

signs of brown rot in fruit

Brown rot spreads through affected fruit

Plums often grow in clusters so it spreads that way too. It creates a stickiness so that it can stay in the tree and mess up your crop next year too. Diabolical! I do collect the damaged fruit as much as I can, but so much is hiding in the grass that I can’t get it all. Of course the sprays do drip on the fallen fruit. Still, it stands to reason that if I see brown rot spreading from one fruit to another, if I remove any plums I see with signs of rot, that may save some fruit. It seems to work.

Surround crop protectant

25 lb bag of Surround

I have two chemical free weapons for this; Serenade and Surround. Serenade is a bacillus subtilis product which seems to stop the brown rot enough to save the crop. I mix 1/3 c. per gallon in my backpack sprayer. It smells a bit yeasty and looks like brown slime. The package says to cover up, use safety glasses and a mask. I tend to think that’s because that’s what people do when they spray chemicals. Perhaps it would be bad to breathe in b.subtilis. I cover up anyway, but I can tell you that I feel a whole lot less nervous getting Serenade on me than Captan or some such toxin.

Other great things to use for fungus are wettable sulfur, or Bordeaux mixture. Bordeaux mixture is best used as a preventative, so it is applied once a year in winter. It is not good to use too much copper as it will eventually build to toxic levels. Sulfur is safer, but not as strong. Neem is good too, although I generally sing its praises as a preventative for plum curculio, the evil beetle that makes those little crescent shaped scars at the top or base of the plum which usually make them drop off prematurely. However it is also reportedly a fungicide, and it is made from a tree in India which also is used in toothpaste.

Surround is completely inert and safe to use

Surround is completely inert and safe to use

When you spray, make sure you are getting under the leaves as well and are spraying until the leaves drip. The best cheap sprayer I have had so far is a 4 gallon plastic backpack sprayer. I honestly forget the brand, and the label fell off last year. I think it is a Chapin or a Hudson.

4 gal backpack sprayer
I’m not sure what brand this is; maybe Chapin or Hudson.

 They don’t generally last. Make sure you flush them out after every use.

 

You sling it onto your back and pressurize it with a handy lever arm on the left side. You have to keep pumping to keep the pressure up while you are spraying though. (There are battery powered ones. )To get up high the best sprayer is a trombone sprayer. Low tech and works. You mix up your product in a pail and put the sucker end in, then start sliding the tube up and down like a trombone. You can get up 30 feet. They are well made, but you will have to take the tip off a lot because if something falls in your bucket it will clog the sprayer tip.

Surround on plums

Surround on plums

I love Surround. It is totally inert; made of finely milled (15 microns) kaolin clay. You could eat it. It works as a particle film barrier to control both pests and fungal diseases. You mix up 3 cups to a gallon of water and pour it through a strainer into your sprayer. For me 2 gallons is enough for a big fruit tree. You can combine Neem with it. The nice folks at Bayer (hiss) don’t recommend mixing Serenade with it, although the guy who sold it to me in Floyd County, VA said he didn’t see why not. (At the time, Seven Springs Farm had the best price for Surround.) Anyway, when you spray a tree or plant with Surround, it looks like it has been slightly whitewashed, although this does not prevent photosynthesis. It confuses flying pests, and chokes the mouth parts and other apertures on crawling insects. It prevents sunscald. I am not sure how it prevents fungus, but it does. Perhaps the pH does it, or it makes the leaves dry faster. A man I heard at one of our MOFFA meetings said it prevents early blight on his Yellow Brandywine Tomatoes. That made me sit up- Yellow Brandywine is my absolute favorite tomato, as you will know if you follow this blog, but she is a bit finicky about dampness and I am always clipping off her bottom leaves. Of course the thing is you have to stay on it. Spray every 10 days is the norm, but if it rains you might have to respray, depending on how well the tree got washed. The gully washer we had last night was definitely a reason. The Surround does cling pretty well though.

Mulberries

Just give up and eat mulberries

Deciding whether I am going to grow something difficult is an emotional choice, and it probably shouldn’t be. Maryland’s Eastern Shore is a paradise, but our warm, humid climate does make growing many fruit trees a challenge. Our winters don’t really freeze the bugs, and fungus thrives. Southern fruits like figs, which enjoy moisture, do very well, especially Brown Turkey and Celeste. Many old houses have nameless ancient fig trees that people try to propagate from, because they are historical as well as trouble free. The solution, really, is to grow what does well in your climate, and to look for disease resistant cultivars, like the Freedom apples that came out in the 80’s- Jonafree, Macfree, Liberty and Freedom, to name a few. My Liberty apple produces large red blemish free fruit with zero spraying so far. And it is very tart and tasty.  But gardeners long to grow the fantasy- a wonderful antique apple, a tender plum. I long for the crisp, silvery, magical Albemarle Pippin of my childhood. Our 2 Albemarle Pippins have not produced one decent apple in 18 years- they are longing for the Blue Ridge Mountains and have fireblight. I need to get on them with copper sulfate this winter. The moral of the story is, decide how much you want to twist yourself into knots to grow something, and know when you are not getting a good return on your investment.

In the meantime, I spray the safe stuff.