No Pectin Plum Jam


I have fought a losing battle with the squirrels in my yard this year. I planted two (sour) cherry and two plum trees a few years ago, and this year was the first that I had a really nice amount of fruit growing and prospering.

Until, that is, the fruit began to ripen. Then, in one weekend, the squirrels ate all but two cherries off those two trees, and they then began to systematically harvest the plums as soon as they showed even the slightest sign of ripeness. Since I was out of town several times when they were attacking, I ended up always being behind them, and my futile attempts at netting the plums were in vain.

Fortunately for me, my kids have also planted plum trees, and they live in a neighborhood almost devoid of squirrels. As a result, I ended up with several pounds of “windfalls” this week. After making two desserts, I still had enough to make a small batch of plum jam.

Plums are among the fruits with high levels of natural pectin, so there is no need to add in any commercial pectin. Depending on the variety of plum and ripeness (less ripe fruit has the highest pectin levels), it may take less than half an hour to get to the just right stage of jelling. I like to use a wood spoon for stirring the jam, as it seems to work best for me to test for jelling, as noted in step 5 below.

An advantage with not using purchased pectin is that you can make a batch of jam that matches the amount of fruit that you have. It is wise never to use more than about 6 to 7 cups of fruit, however, as the mixture may not evenly cook and/or it will need a much longer time to jell, leading to an overcooked flavor.

If you have more (or fewer) plums, just use about a 4 parts sugar to 5 parts plums ratio–or a little less, as in this recipe, if your plums are very sweet. Just don’t cut back too much on the sugar, as it not only adds sweetness; it also helps in the jelling of the final product.

No Pectin Plum Jam

5 c plum pulp
3 3/4 c sugar
1/4 c reconstituted lemon juice (such as ReaLemon)

To make the plum pulp:

1.  Chop the plums coarsely and put in a heavy pan, with just a tablespoon or so of water to keep the fruit from sticking. Cut out any bad spots but keep the pits in the mix. Cover and cook the plums over medium heat, until the fruit is very, very soft. This will take about 25 to 30 minutes.

2.  Run the fruit through a food mill or press through a coarse colander. (I will admit it: I washed my hands well and just pulled the pits out of the mixture with my bare hands! It didn’t take very long and I was able to maximize the yield. Plus, the fruit closest to the pits is often the most flavorful.)

To make the jam:

1. Place a small saucer or two in the freezer. 

2.  Measure the amount of pulp that you have and use 3/4 cup sugar for every cup of pulp (perhaps a bit less if you have very sweet plums). Use about 2 1/2 to 3 teaspoons of lemon juice per cup.

3. Put all the ingredients in a large pan (this will boil up quite a bit) and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

4.  Continue to cook uncovered, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking. Depending on the plums, it will take anywhere from half an hour to 45 minutes to reach the jelling stage.

5.  Testing for jelling:  Hold the spoon with which you are stirring the jam above the mixture and allow the jam to run off the spoon slowly. Watch for when the drops of jam start to “sheet off” the spoon–instead of individual streams of liquid flowing down, the drops start to combine and flow in only one or two syrupy streams.  When it begins to do this, remove one of the saucers from the freezer and put a few drops of jam on the plate.

When you can run a rubber scraper or knife through the jam and it holds its shape, the jam is ready to take off the heat.

At this point, the jam can be put into sterilized jars and kept in the refrigerator for a month or so, the easy way to work with smaller batches of jam. However, if you want to store the jam on the shelf, you will need to process the jars in a hot water bath.

Processing Jam in a Hot Water Bath

You will need a pot (a “canner” ) large enough to put water in an inch above the top of the jars you are using, and you will need to use canning jars with lids specifically made for canning.

Bring water to a rolling boil in the canner and gently lift the sealed jars into the water. Cover and allow the water to return to a boil. At this point, set a timer, and continue boiling gently for 10 minutes for either half pint or pint jars. Remove the jars from the boiling water and allow to cool.


Okay, I cannot tell a lie. I had a small cluster of black grapes (from Aldi, not local) that really needed some attention. Why not, I thought. I already was using two varieties of plums, some deep purple, some rosy red. The grapes would represent less than 10 percent of the total fruit in the jam, so I chopped them up and added them to the plums. The result? Just a richer, fruity flavor, with no real hint of grape in the final product.

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