Cook in the Moment: Italian Prune Plum and Cardamom Conserve

Italian Prune Plum Conserve with Irish Oatmeal (c)2012 La Domestique

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.

Ingredients for Italian Prune Plum and Cardamom Conserve (c)2012 La Domestique

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.

Ingredients for Italian Prune and Cardamom Conserve (c) 2012 La Domestique

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.

Pitting Italian Prune Plums for Jam (c) 2012 La Domestique

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.

Plums and Currants Macerated in Sugar, Lemon Juice, and Brandy (c)2012 La Domestique

Two to three days later, the plums are ready and it’s time to get busy in the kitchen making jam.

Supplies for Canning: Large Pot, Jars, Lids, Bands, Funnel, Jar Lifter, Rack (c)2012 La Domestique

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.

Cooking Italian Prune and Cardamom Conserve on the Stovetop (c) 2012 La Domestique

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?

Have you been jamming with fall fruits? I would love to hear what you’ve been up to in the kitchen. Leave a comment here.

24 Comments

  1. This looks so yummy and pretty! I have always wanted to try canning, but I will admit it does intimidate me. One of these days I just need to jump in and do it!

    Reply
    • Jocelyn,
      Thank you! You’ve got to give canning a try. I will say it’s nice to have another pair of hands to help (I always do it when the husband is around), that way you won’t be so overwhelmed. You can do it!

      Reply
  2. This conserve is gorgeous!! I love plum jam already, but I love the little tweaks. I’ve never used white cardamom, but it sure is pretty in your mortar and pestle :)

    Reply
    • Thanks Nicole. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. :)

      Reply
  3. You have inspired me to start canning. Just spoke to my mum, who’s moved into her new place in the country in Australia- with orchards to boot. Am getting very itchy to get busy in her kitchen.

    Reply
    • Tori,
      You’ve got a real talent for flavor pairing, and I think you could come up with some fantastic flavor combinations!

      Reply
  4. Love Blue Chair Jam, and impressed with your canning setup! Mine is definitely not that organized. :) Cardamom is one of those magical spices that just transforms fruit. Beautiful!

    Reply
    • Thanks Kasey. We live in a tiny apartment too, and it’s tough to find a place for the big pot. Cardamom is absolutely my favorite spice.

      Reply
  5. Oh my! The last photo is a stunner.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Renee!

      Reply
  6. Aw, you explain the process really throughly! Very helpful. And the conserve looks so pretty on your oatmeal! It still freaks me out though. Maybe one day I’ll work up the courage to do some real jamming.

    Reply
    • Linda,
      Thanks for your kind comment! I am a worrier, and so I get freaked out making jam too. You’ve just got to choose an approachable recipe, follow the instructions to the T, and remember that home cooks have been jamming for a long time without any problems. No fear! :)

      Reply
  7. This looks delicious. I’m usually tired out by canning and preserving once the end of the season arrives, but this looks too good to pass up. I don’t know if I am going to be able to round up plum brandy though. And your bowl from the first photo is just perfect with a swirl of plum conserve! Happy weekend!

    Reply
    • Ginger,
      I don’t blame you for being all jammed out by the end of the season. Fall fruits are so fun to work with though. If you can’t find plum brandy, a nip of regular brandy would probably add that wintry warmth just fine.

      Reply
  8. My husband knows how to make jams but I have never tried it. Reading articles like this one sure makes me respect every jar of jam that I pick up these days. I’m going to look closely to see if I can find those dark plums that you used. I don’t think I’ve seen them. And, oh yes, cardamom! Isn’t it such a beautiful spice? Learned about white cardamom for the first time…love that.

    Reply
    • Sarah,
      I always enjoy hearing about your husband’s cooking projects on Thyme- it’s so cool that he likes to be in the kitchen! Thanks for stopping by la domestique!

      Reply
  9. Jess, I’m sending this along to my husband – the jammer in our house. I love your use of cardamom – one of my favorite flavors and I bet it is so good with the plums.
    Have a good week,
    E

    Reply
    • Erin,
      Thanks for passing this post along to your husband- it’s so cool that he loves making jam! Take care, Jess

      Reply
  10. Oh my this conserve looks good enough to get me back into the canning spirit. Sadly I’ve only canned bread and butter pickles this season, the jams I made went direct to the freezer. Beautiful photos and set-up!

    Reply
    • I’m so glad you found some inspiration, Nikki!

      Reply
  11. I was so excited to see you made this! I sort of made it a few weeks back–didn’t have enough currants so I skipped them, used armagnac instead of slivovice (though I am making homemade slivovice per Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s instructions). I really want to try the “real” recipe though. I know exactly what you mean, I would never think to eat these raw but they make the very best preserves. Love your plate in the first pic.

    Reply
    • Sara,
      Making your own slivovice sounds like a wonderful idea- I’m going to have to try it. Thanks for saying hi!

      Reply
  12. I must echo the sentiments of others and marvel at how tremendous the partnership of cardamom and plum sounds. Indeed.

    Reply
    • Kimberley,
      It is very, very good!

      Reply

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