Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Plum Jelly Making with Mom

I grew up in Mill Valley, a town more filled with plum trees than most. Though my mom made plum syrup and jelly every year, and I helped with stirring and measuring sugar, when I was young I was more interested in eating the fruit right from the tree (best when harvesting included a risk such as getting caught by the owner or precarious climbing) or using the abundant cherry plums as ammo for the massive plum fights we kids would wage.

Remaining cherry plums in the front yard tree

As these things usually go, I now wish I had spent more time paying attention in the kitchen so I too could effortlessly whip up anything and everything like my mom does. Lucky me though, I can still catch up. So yesterday I rode the ferry over to the folks' place and set about making cherry plum jelly.

As much as I love being up in the trees, I got off easy this year as the plums had already been picked by my 6'3" cousin Tim visiting from Montana, and my mom had already boiled the plums, made syrup and drained the remaining fruit through cheesecloth overnight to produce the plum juice we'd use for the jelly.

So we got right to work! As you will see from the finished product below, my mom recycles her jars and seals them using wax instead of processing them to produce an airtight seal. The jars and lids had already been run through the washing machine, but we also boiled the lids in a saucepan for a few minutes and poured boiling hot water in the jars for further sterilization and to warm them up. After that we put the jars upside-down in the oven on low heat so they'd be dry and ready for the hot jelly pour.

Our recipe called for 4 cups of plum juice and 6 1/2 cups of sugar, though we used scant cups so it wouldn't be overly sweet so was probably more like 6 cups of sugar. After adding the sugar in, we heated together on medium heat, stirring fairly frequently to keep from burning.

My mom has always used Sure-Jell Certo Liquid Pectin, which we added once the sugar and juice were blended and warm before bringing the jelly to a roiling boil.

My mom stands by Certo Liquid Pectin

The boiling of jam can be a bit rises fast, and you need to stir pretty furiously and turn down the heat as needed to avoid a hot mess on your stovetop. Be sure you use a large enough saucepan and have potholders or gloves at hand to avoid burns.

Jam at a full boil
Boiling on lower temperature

After 1 1/2 minutes, we turned off the heat and let the jelly settle while we removed the jars from the oven.

Removing the warm jars from the oven

We then began pouring the jelly!

Filling the jars

Letting a skin form

Close-up of air bubbles

People have all kinds of ways for removing the air bubbles, but we just use a toothpick to pop the larger ones and kind of pull the bunches of bubbles together to then skim them off with a spoon. This is easier if you let the jelly set up just a little bit so a skin starts to form.

Removing air bubbles with a toothpick

As I was on air bubble removal patrol, my mom started heating the wax for the seals. She uses the below brand, and simply creates a makeshift pitcher from a tea can. See, you really don't need a lot of specialized kitchen gadgets!


Double-boiler action with homemade pitcher

Pouring the wax seals

Ready for lids

Once we poured the wax seals and let them set up, we made sure there were no cracks or bubbles needing topping off, and put the lids on and admired the gorgeous finished product. What a beautiful color, right?

Finished plum jellies and some of the syrup

After our hard jelly work, we had lunch on the deck with my dad and all went for a celebratory pint at Mill Valley Beerworks, a family favorite down the street, before popping me on the ferry amid rainbows and foggy mist.

Mom at the bar
Rainbow ferry ride

And, to give this all a sweet finish, below is today's breakfast: french toast (uh-mazing made with Acme Citrus and Almond Brioche acquired after getting off the ferry) topped with plum syrup and fruit. Couldn't be better!

French toast with homemade plum syrup and fruit


  1. I'm going to try this... my father in law always has an abundance of plums. I've made (and not really loved) plum preserves, but jelly might be the ticket. Can't get better than learning from mom. Thx for sharing!!

  2. happy to have provided some inspiration - let me know if you post about your jelly making! and yes, learning from mom IS the best ;)