Sunday, September 11, 2011

Italian Prune Plum Jam and Some Reflection

     I really did not intend to write anything about the 10th Anniversary of 9-11 in this post.  What could I possibly say that hasn't already been said?  On the other hand, how could I ignore it?  It was a day that changed our world forever.  It was a day that touched the lives of my family, friends and neighbors.  It was a day that changed our country and maybe for the first time, made us feel vulnerable as a nation.
     After hearing the news, I left work and after what seemed to be an endless commute home, I turned on the TV and watched in utter disbelief.  I kept thinking to myself... this could not really be happening.  I would walk out my front door and look to the sky.  It was eerily silent.  No planes coming or going from nearby JFK.  Occasionally I would hear the scream of a military jet, an unfamiliar sound around these parts.  The sky was a different color and the smoke obscured the western sky for days.  I remember going down the beach with Melissa and seeing U.S. Naval ships sitting off the coast of Long Beach.  I remember telling her that they were there to protect us and that everything would be OK.   I think I was trying to convince myself.  This really was happening, and it was too real.
     The weeks and months that followed were filled with sadness and fear.  What I came to realize in the following days, is that I should never take anything for granted.  All these years, I would say goodbye to Paul and my kids as they left the house in the morning, but never really bothered to be truly thankful upon their returned.  They were supposed to return.  It was expected that they would return.  It was something that I just took for granted.  On September 11, 2001,  too many people who were expected to return,  never returned home to their loved ones.
     Every year, the world becomes a more complicated place.  I was thinking about that a lot when I started this post a few days ago.  Sometimes I wish we could just go back to that safe and secure feeling that we had as children.  Perhaps we were really no safer, we just didn't know any better.

     When I was growing up, my best friend's father had a beautiful vegetable garden.  He also had a few plum trees in the backyard.  One tree produced beautiful, juicy red plums.  The other tree produced small dark plums with green insides.  Those small dark plums with the green insides were also very tart and just didn't compare with the taste of the red juicy plums.  The red plums were the prize plums.  The little dark plums were usually left on the tree, feeling sad and dejected, until they fell to the ground and turned to mush.  We called those plums "ockies".  I have no idea why, but that became their name for all time.

     The ockies served another purpose in the lives of 8 and 9 year olds.  Joanne and I would gather the rotting ockies in a beach pail, and pass it off to "the boys" in the neighborhood.  The boys were a little older than us and needed the ockies for ammo.  They would climb up into the trees in front of Joanne's house and hide.  When a car came along or an unsuspecting passer-by, the boys would bombard them with ockies.  It was a stupid thing to do, but you have to remember these were the days when kids played outside ALL DAY LONG in the summer, left to their own devices.  As long as there was no bloodshed or major fires involved, parents gave kids a lot of space back in the day.
     Anyway, back to the ockies....the only other person that had any interest in the ockie tree was a neighbor called Nonna.  Nonna came to live on our street when I was about 6 years old.  She came from Italy to care for her grandson, after the death of his parents.  Nonna became the neighborhood  grandma.  Once in a while she would ask Joanne and I to pick her some ockies before they hit the ground. (and became ammo)  She would spice them up and bake them in a cake.  It was wonderful.  Those ockies had such a different taste when Nonna got her hands on them.  It wasn't until 20 years later that I learned these ockies were actually Italian prune plums.  No wonder Nonna knew what to do with them.  When I saw a recipe for Italian prune plum jam, I couldn't wait to try it.
     I think this has got to be my favorite jam of all time.  It is both sweet and tart, not sweet and tart like Sweet Tarts, but in a good way.  This batch had a perfect consistency, not overly set, but just set enough.  It is good on toast or muffins.  It can be swirled into plain or Greek yogurt, or can be eaten as an ice-cream topping.  I'm also thinking it could be the main ingredient in a glaze for chicken or pork.  Find the firmest, almost under-ripe plums possible to make the best tasting jam.

Italian Prune Plum Jam 
Adapted from: Mrs. G's Italian Plum and Cointreau Jam
Makes 5 half pint jars, plus a little extra
  • 3 pounds of very firm Italian Plums (prune plums)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange flavored liqueur
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
Prepare and sterilize jars.  See this post if you have not canned before.  
Wash and dry the plums.  Cut in half and remove pit.  
Put plums in a large pot with 1/2 cup of water.
Cook plums at a fast simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes.  Stir often.  Plums will begin to fall apart after 30 minutes. Notice the how the jam gets its color from the skin of the fruit.
When plums are soft and falling apart, remove from heat.  
Press plums through a food mill into a bowl, using a coarse food mill disk.
You could also use an immersion blender if you do not have a food mill.  I think a food mill gives the jam a better texture.
Return the plums to the pot, add the lemon juice and sugar.  Mix constantly and heat over a medium high heat until sugar is dissolved.  
Once sugar is dissolved, continue to cook at a lively boil, stirring often, making sure jam does not stick to bottom of pan and burn.  Skim off any foam.  Continue to cook until almost set, about 15 minutes.  Test to see if set. Freezer plate method works well here.  
If jam is beginning to thicken and set, add the Grand Marnier and cook another 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and spoon into hot sterile jars leaving 1/4" head space.  
Clean rims of jars and cover with lids and rings.
Process jam for 10 minutes in a rolling boiling bath. 
Turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes.
Remove from bath and allow to cool in a draft-free location. Jars will "ping" when sealed.
If jar does not seal, refrigerate and use within a month.
Allow sealed jars to sit undisturbed overnight.
Store in a cool dark place.


  1. I made syrup out of my Italian Prune Plums, and it is really good for a beginner.


  2. I have a question about this recipe. Did you mean to leave out pectin?

  3. How do you make syrup Pat? I'm just starting to experiment with putting up fruit. Any help is great! ;-)


  4. @Anonymous- I did not use pectin in this recipe. It was a "loose " jam. As I said, it was just set enough for my liking, almost like the consistency of a fruit butter. If you like a tighter jam, by all means use pectin. I also think if you are using very ripe plums, you may need the pectin. My plums were very firm and a bit on the under-ripe side. If you make it and use pectin, let me know how it turned out.

  5. What do I do if I don't have a food mill or immersion blender? I have a great food processor, would that work?

  6. @ Anonymous - I have never used a food processor for this purpose, but I assume it would work. I suggest you just pulse the fruit so it still has texture and doesn't become runny. Be really careful- hot fruit can cause a wicked burn. If you like to like to can, I suggest you purchase a food mill. They are not expensive and I've yet to find a modern appliance that does a better job. What I really like about them, is the way it separates any tough skin or peels and allows the fruit to pass through. It's great for tomato sauce, mashed potatoes, and many canning projects. It save a lot of time not having to peel the fruit or veggies.