If Italian prune plums can be found at the farmer’s market, fall is truly here. Small, oblong like a little egg with dusky midnight blue skin, these plums are sold at markets during September and October. The flavor is concentrated in their skin, covering golden yellow flesh that is meaty and soft, not bursting with juices like the Santa Rosas. It seems odd to get so excited about a fruit that I would never consider eating raw, but Italian prune plums make spectacular preserves. Transformed by the cooking process into sweet, tart, deeply flavored fruit, the plums hold their own in Rachel Saunders’s recipe for Italian Prune and Cardamom Conserve, flavored with spices and a kick of brandy. Thick and wintry, conserve is a jam made with fresh and dried fruit, often spiked with a splash of liquor. Every year I welcome autumn by putting up a batch of conserve to enjoy throughout the colder months. A heaping spoonful stirred into steaming oatmeal adds a nice fruity acidity and spice to a rich and hearty breakfast. Keep fruit conserve at the table to spread over slices of Irish brown soda bread, or use it as filling for a galette. Heat the conserve in a small pan and spoon the sauce over seared duck breasts or serve it as a condiment on the cheese plate. You’ll run out of conserve before you run out of ways to enjoy it.
Italian Prune and Cardamom Conserve from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, by Rachel Saunders, begins with 4 pounds pitted and halved Italian prune plums, freshly squeezed lemon juice, currants (I used raisins because that’s what I had on hand), white cane sugar, and plum brandy. Something I always have to remind myself when preserving is to make sure to buy enough fruit so that it weighs 4 pounds after pitting.
This conserve is spiced with white cardamom, which I found at my local Savory Spice Shop. White cardamom is simply bleached green pods, which I’ve learned are more popular in Scandinavia. The bleaching affect is supposedly purely cosmetic, but I noticed the pods seemed to have a more peppery aroma. Anyone out there know more about white cardamom? Please do share in the comments section.
It takes a few days to complete this recipe. On day 1 the pitted plums go into a large container (hard plastic or glass) with the sugar, lemon juice, currants, and plum brandy to macerate. Over the next 48 to 72 hours, the fruit releases juices and softens.
Two to three days later, the plums are ready and it’s time to get busy in the kitchen making jam.
My supplies for canning include a 16 quart pot for processing the jars, six 8-ounce jars with lids and bands, jar lifter, homemade rack to keep jars off the bottom of the pot while processing, and a funnel. It’s important to note that while bands can be re-used, new lids are required every time because the sealant is only good for one use. My homemade rack is simply made from lids tied together with kitchen twine.
The macerated fruit is cooked in a large, wide, nonreactive pot until thick and jammy, about 45 minutes. Cardamom in a fine-mesh tea infuser ball does the job of flavoring the jam and is easily removed at the end of cooking. I use my 7 1/4 quart Le Crueset Signature Round Dutch Oven for cooking the jam, but would love to have a copper preserving pan one day.
Once thickened and gloppy, the conserve is done and ready to ladle into sterilized jars, which are then processed to kill bacteria or mold that could spoil the jam or make you sick. Safety is of utmost importance in preserving, and I encourage you to do plenty of research before getting started with jam-making. In the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, Rachel Saunders uses the oven to sterilize and process jars. If I lived at sea level I would too, but canning at an altitude of 5,280 feet presents some challenges. According to In the book, Canning For a New Generation, by Liana Krissoff, ”Because of lower atmospheric pressure at higher elevations, water boils at lower temperatures, and this means it will take longer to kill off spoilers.” She includes instructions for lengthening processing time based on your altitude. To be safe, I follow the Colorado State University Extension guidelines on canning fruits, and always process the filled jars in a water bath.
All the steps and time of canning fruits can be overwhelming, but practice builds confidence and it gets easier and more efficient every time. Pulling a jar of homemade jam or conserve from the pantry is such a gratifying feeling. A spectacular jam begins with spectacular fruit, and I encourage you to check what’s available at a local farmer’s market or roadside stand. If you’re inspired by a certain fruit, the jam-making process will be well worthwhile. What’s better in the middle of winter than getting a taste of the ripest fruits of fall?