"Mom. Play Lulu's message again for me. I love when she says, 'Yummy, yummy, yummy! Plum jam in my tummy!"
If you haven't been paying attention to the plum trees in San Francisco, consider this a warning: the plums are ripe. And ripe plums means we are so close to having sticky, plum-spattered sidewalks in certain neighborhoods. I wish I had photos from past plum seasons when unsuspecting owners thought they were lucky to nab parking spots shaded by plum trees. I have yet to meet anyone who liked the purple goo and pits that ended up baked on their car.
For the last couple of years, there have been plum blossoms in January and February, but no plums in the spring. I suspect the lack of fruit is thanks to the drought, but I don't really know. This year, though, is definitely a plum year, which is lucky for Wyatt because he has been dying to pick plums and make jam.
The last time we picked plums for jam was July, 2013. Wyatt had just turned two. We picked over ten pounds of plums, all from the plum tree in front of our house.* I cooked them into jam, and we managed to put up enough jars to give some away and continue enjoying the jam until this fall. Even though Wyatt doesn't remember our picking the plums, he remembers eating the jam. While our picking didn't seem to reduce the number of plums Marc scraped off the sidewalk every weekend that season, the jam tasted great, and it allowed us to feel like we were making the most of the situation.
Wyatt tried one of the plums from our tree last week, and he reported that it wasn't THAT sour. So we picked plums on Friday. Here is a mock-up of our set-up, because I wasn't able to photograph what we actually did.
In reality, I climbed and perched all the way up into the tree while Wyatt nestled himself in the crook closest to the beach bucket (that he had cleverly insisted we lash to a limb with sparkly yellow shoelace). I picked whatever plums I could reach, handed them to him, and he put them in the bucket. Just after we got started, our neighbor, Lulu, visited with us through her second story window. We talked about how there were definitely some plums this year, but not as many as in other years. Once I had picked the eight plums I could reach, and Wyatt had started complaining there was nothing for him to do, I said to Lulu, "I really wish we had one of those fruit pickers, because I can hardly reach any of these plums. You don't have one, do you?" She said, "Do you mean one of those things that can grab and bring things down? I have one of those! I'll bring it to you." And Lulu presented us with her Gopher. She said she uses it for reaching jars or cans that are on high shelves. But I can now attest that it is great for picking San Francisco street tree plums. I plucked each plum with the Gopher and then reached it down to Wyatt, released the plum into his hand, and he placed the plum in the bucket. Teamwork for sure. We also got a few more plums using the ladder and Gopher, but not many.
We picked just shy of 2 1/2 pounds of plums.
And on Saturday, we made jam. I love the recipe my friend, Sarah, suggested three years ago, from Food in Jars: Italian Plum Jam with Star Anise. Even though the recipe is technically for Italian plums, our San Francisco street tree plums are great in it. Once we had pitted and chopped our plums, we had about four cups. To scale the recipe up, I used about 1/4 cup of sugar per cup of plums, and it worked perfectly.
We chopped our plums, let them mascerate with four star anise blossoms and the sugar for about an hour, removed the four star anise blossoms, cooked the jam for about 15 minutes, and checked the temperature and conducted a couple of plate tests as it started to look done. When the jam was finished, we put some in a jar for us and some in a jar for Lulu and her husband. Because the yield of this jam was so small, I didn't bother with a full canning set-up. We're just refrigerating our jar.
I recommended to Lulu that she also refrigerate her jar when I called to ask if Wyatt could deliver them some jam on Saturday evening. When Wyatt returned, he said, "Lulu said thank you so much, and she's going to have the jam on her toast in the morning! Can I also have toast in the morning? Please? With PLUM JAM?"
* The Friends of the Urban Forest claim the fruit of these trees is "insignificant." I couldn't disagree more. While each plum itself is pretty small and in some cases, mostly pit, the volume of plums (and mess) can be quite large for a street tree.