Sandhill plums are wild plums that grow along the sides of the road in out-of-the way places. These little red gems have been turned into jelly for many years by homemakers in the central United States.
Earlier in the year, I noticed how beautifully the sandhill plums were blooming. 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 simply called them wild plums.
There are many, many varieties. Some small and quite tart, others large and almost sweet. All of them need a tremendous amount of sugar to make them into jelly. (consider that your warning…)
Here’s a run down of how the plums got from the thicket to my pantry…
Watch the video of the sandhill plum jelly canning process >>
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: Depending on how thick you like your jelly, you may or may not want to add water as you cook them down. It also depends on the year and whether or not the plums themselves are fat and juicy.
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. In fact, my plum jelly making process usually takes around 3 days to complete. I just don’t have the time to do it all in one day.
7. Get your sugar ready – 8 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 8 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 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 finger-fulls the rest of the day.
11. Ladle jelly (using a canning funnel) 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. If you have a dishwasher, use it to sanitize and dry your jars.
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 or given away as gifts! Yum!