Of Plums And Roses
This has been a very hard few weeks, and the best thing about them is that the neighborhood plums are ripe. Cooking, preferably cooking for others, is one of my favorite self soothing strategies. Thus, I’m making basil salt by the gallon (no joke), pesto galore, chunky chutney, fruit vinegars spunky with vanilla beans and peppercorns or cardamom pods. And jam. This week, I’m jammin’ every day, stirring fragrant pots of cut up fruit, melting down to velvety puree, cooking out the water until there’s just thick, delectable jam. Filling little jars, writing labels, packing the pantry with pots of summer. Just two ingredients (maybe three), plus heat, plus patience. It’s so simple, so basic, so pure, there’s almost not a recipe. But there is, and here it is:
Have on hand:
Wide, shallow pan for jam
Long handled spoon
Long handled tongs for jars
1-cup ladle for jam
Wide mouth funnel for filling jars
Canning jars, lids (about 6 pint jars)
Soup pot of simmering water for canning jars
smaller pot of simmering water for jar lids
Fresh Plum Jam
8 cups pitted, chopped plums
2 cups sugar
1 lemon or 1-2 tbsp lemon juice (just in case)
Put plums in a wide, shallow pan. Pour sugar over plums to coat and let it sit for an hour or so. Cover pan and turn heat on medium. As juice accumulates and sugar melts, uncover pan and stir occasionally. Use a potato masher to crush the softening fruit. As the fruit turns soupy, bump up the heat to a rolling boil and stir a little more often. As the jam starts to thicken, stir more often so it doesn’t scorch. The gelling point for jam is 220 degrees F, hotter than boiling, and you get there by evaporating off the water in the fruit. Along the way, taste a bit of your jam and add a little lemon juice if it’s bland (very ripe fruit can be blander, while including some less ripe fruit gives the jam some zip and more natural pectin as well). When you hit 220 F, arrange sterilized jars on the cooling rack with tongs, ladle them almost full (leave 1/2 inch head room), slap on a warm lid and twist on a jar ring. When you’re done, tighten the rings and put the jars into the big soup pot of boiling water (tongs!) for a boiling water bath (10 minutes). Remove pot from heat and put the jars on the cooling rack (tongs!). Now have a piece of toast, with butter and lots of jam. Take some jam to the neighbors. Make a pie with the rest of the plums.
Plum & Peach Pie
2 crusts for 9” pie dish
6 cups quartered and pitted plums
2 peaches, sliced and pitted
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
Pinch of salt
Line a pie dish with 1 crust. In a bowl, gently toss fruit with sugar, flour and salt. Fill pie dish, mounding fruit high in the middle. Top with second crust, pinch crusts together along the edges and twist with thumbs (push up with one and down with the other) to flute the edge. Slash top a few times (I like to make happy pie faces). Put a baking sheet on the rack under your pie (spillage burns badly), bake at 425 degrees F. for 15 minutes, then 350 F for 35-40 minutes. Cool a bit before slicing. Serves at least one.
Today I was asked to write about the thorns and roses of this pandemic experience and found it more difficult than expected. I did everything up to and including cleaning the bathroom to avoid getting started and slowly realized that this request required me to think clearly about so many things I’ve been scrupulously blocking from consciousness. Lalalala I can’t HEAR you…. Partly it’s just too painful and fraught and partly it’s a function of shock. Personally, I’ve been in shock since early March and denial has been my coping tool of choice. But once I got started, it went fast, like this:
Thorns And Roses
Thorns? Thorns are easy. Thorns include so much I hold dear: Family, music, community. They have always been roses before but now, I won’t be able to visit my grandkids because school has started. Their parents teach in private schools, and my grandkids will be attending private school, so my kids feel it’s too dangerous for me. My heart weeps with loss and fear for them, not just me. Music; no singing with my beloved choir, no singing with Becky and Simon, a thirteen year joy and now a gaping loss. Community includes countless losses from tea and knitting to supporting the families of transgender kiddos, now isolated even further.
Thorns also include things that terrify and distress me; Pandemic. Embedded racism. Politics. Economic depression. Homelessness. Job losses. Healthcare losses. Too many people, including family and friends, people I know and don’t know, have lost so much more than I have. My heart weeps for them. Our beautiful, astonishing planet is suffering, dangerously damaged by human abuse and we don’t have the sense to cherish it instead. Broken heart in pieces on the ground. There’s more, but I’ve surely distressed you enough.
Oh, But The Roses
Roses are harder to count some days but this week I found a bundle of glorious roses in sunset colors, fragrant and tender, a gift from a young friend I love dearly. My daughter is a rose in bloom, slowly grounding into herself. While zoom meetings leave me limp and frazzled, I have learned that tempers remain calmer during challenging conversations than in face-to-face meetings, a definite rose in my meeting-rich life. My garden is a haven for me and for pollinators galore, which keep my tiny beds alive with joyful humming and buzzing, fluttering and chattering. I’m meeting friends for distanced, masked walks, hearing beloved voices and learning to read those expressive eyes, the tilt of eyebrows. Maybe best of all, I’m finding new richness in “empty prayer”, prayers stripped of words and thought, holding peace and healing. May the peace and the pie be with you!