This time of year I get a ton of hits on my post on sandhill plum jelly. That post is rather sad, but for some reason Google likes it. For those of you who land on that post and find your way here, I’m hoping this post does a little better justice to this lovely roadside fruit.
Earlier in the year, I noticed how beautifully the sandhill plums were blooming. Well, when I went out scavenging this past weekend, I was not disappointed!
Where I grew up, these little red treasures that grow alongside the road in thickets and are free for the taking (try to avoid those near fields that have been sprayed with chemicals) are called sandhill plums, but other places I’ve lived have called them simply wild plums.
Here’s a run down of how the plums got from the thicket to my pantry…
1. We picked 2 gallons of plums. This requires you to get past the fact that sandhill plums are thorny and grow where the grass is tall.
2. I laid them out on the counter for about 2 days to let the almost ripe ones ripen fully. This requires you to get past the fact that small children are naturally attracted to the color red and sandhill plums are naturally sour which causes small children to take one bite and spit them out…on the floor.
3. I washed them, de-stemmed them, and cooked them down in a large stock pot. This takes about an hour. You don’t need to pit them beforehand. That is taken care of in the next step…
*Note: We had a picking a couple of years ago that required we add some water to the plums to get them to cook down properly. Usually, this isn’t the case, but feel free to do so if you see that the berries aren’t cooking down easily.
4. I ladled the cooked down berries into a mesh strainer and pushed the pulp through with the back of a metal spoon. Somewhere in my home is a strainer with an attached blade that you turn to push the pulp through. However, I couldn’t find it. Most canning strainers look like this one:
The 2 gallons of plums yielded just at 6 cups of pulp.
5. Put the pulp in the refrigerator until you can find the time to make jelly. Ok, so this isn’t a necessary step; however, I wanted you to know you CAN save it for later. You can even freeze it for later. Don’t feel like you have to carve out a whole day to make sandhill plum jelly. It can be done in bits and pieces.
6. Put the pulp in a large stockpot and added 6 TBSP (equiv of one box) of pectin. (I buy pectin in bulk.) Stir this in well. Use a whisk if you have to.
7. Get your sugar ready – 8½ cups to be exact. This step is the hardest for me to remember; however, you have to add your sugar all at once, so measure it out into a bowl beforehand so you can just dump the bowl in when it’s time. And remember, this 8½ cups of sugar is for 6 cups of pulp. Adjust accordingly.
8. Get pulp and pectin to a rolling boiling and then add the sugar. Once again, stir well, then bring it back to a boil.
9. Boil another 4 minutes, stirring constantly. It will scorch if you don’t!
10. Scrap off the foam. I just take a metal spoon and gently glide it over the surface of the jelly. This scrapes off the foam so you can see the pretty jelly beneath. The foam goes into a bowl from which the entire family takes fingerfulls the rest of the day.
11. Ladle jelly (I use a canning funnel too) into the jelly jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace at the top. Prior to making jelly, I wash up my jars and lids (this recipe took 9 jelly jars which are 8 oz each) in hot, soapy water. I dry them and put them on a cookie sheet in the oven on warm. When it is time to fill the jars I just pull out the cookie sheet.
12. Add lids and rings and screw on finger-tight. Now, at some point here, you need to start your water bath to process the jars; however, I only have one big burner, so that is a trick considering I need that burner to boil the jelly. Once you have a rolling boil in your canner…
13. Add jars to water bath canner and process 6 minutes. Getting the water height right is quite a trick, so overdo it rather than underdo it when you fill your canner with water. Also, make sure you have one of those handy jar lifters. It grabs just below the lids and makes pulling the jars from the water so much easier.
14. Set jars out on counter to cool and listen for lid popping. The lids popping is music to my ears! It means the jars are sealed and can stay on the shelves safely.
And now, these lovely jars reside in my pantry just waiting to be pried open and eaten! Yum!
By the way, I had a reader ask for a sandhill plum pie recipe. I don’t have one, but thought I’d give a shout out to the rest of you. Anyone?