Author: Montgomery, L.M.
Book: Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea
Difficulty rating: Little Women
Deliciousness rating: Outstanding
“Everything is ready, Diana, except my cake which I’m to make in the morning, and the baking-powder biscuits which Marilla will make just before teatime. I assure you, Diana, that Marilla and I have had a busy two days of it. It’s such a responsibility having a minister’s family to tea. I never went through such an experience before. You should just see our pantry. It’s a sight to behold. We’re going to have jellied chicken and cold tongue. We’re to have two kinds of jelly, red and yellow, and whipped cream and lemon pie, and cherry pie, and three kinds of cookies, and fruit cake, and Marilla’s famous yellow plum preserves that she keeps especially for ministers, and pound cake and layer cake, and biscuits as aforesaid; and new bread and old both, in case the minister is dyspeptic and can’t eat new. Mrs. Lynde says ministers are dyspeptic, but I don’t think Mr. Allan has been a minister long enough for it to have had a bad effect on him. I just grow cold when I think of my layer cake. Oh, Diana, what if it shouldn’t be good! I dreamed last night that I was chased all around by a fearful goblin with a big layer cake for a head.” (Anne of Green Gables, Chapter 21)
Anne had come home from school the previous evening, to find Marilla away at an Aid meeting, Dora asleep on the kitchen sofa, and Davy in the sitting room closet, blissfully absorbing the contents of a jar of Marilla’s famous yellow plum preserves. . . “company jam,” Davy called it. . .which he had been forbidden to touch. He looked very guilty when Anne pounced on him and whisked him out of the closet.
‘Davy Keith, don’t you know that it is very wrong of you to be eating that jam, when you were told never to meddle with anything in that closet?’
‘Yes, I knew it was wrong,’ admitted Davy uncomfortably, ‘but plum jam is awful nice, Anne. I just peeped in and it looked so good I thought I’d take just a weeny taste. I stuck my finger in. . .’ Anne groaned. . .’and licked it clean. And it was so much gooder than I’d ever thought that I got a spoon and just sailed in.’ (Anne of Avonlea, Chapter 14)
So, a few weeks ago Miko texted me excitedly that the Middle Eastern produce market in our neighborhood had yellow plums for sale! We of course remembered Marilla’s famous yellow plum preserves that are reserved only for ministers, so I said I would attempt to do the preserving if Miko would research a recipe.
We’d imagined these to be a type of jam, but the recipes we found from the era turned out to be more like canned fruit! There were a number of different recipes, but we settled on this one since it was the simplest, with the least amount of sugar, and also CANADIAN.
THE HOME COOK BOOK, TORONTO 1877
Allow to every pound of fruit three-quarters of a pound of sugar ; put into stone jars alternate layers of fruit and sugar, and place the jars in a moderately warm oven. Let them remain there until the oven is cool if prepared at tea time let them remain until morning , then strain the juice from the plums, boil and clarify it, Remove the fruit carefully to glass or china jars, pour over the hot syrup and carefully cover with egg, tissue paper, or thick white paper pasted, or bladder tied closely down.
These old preserving recipes are nice because you just start by weighing the amount of fruit you have, and go from there. I probably had about five pounds of yellow plums, so I used about 3 3/4 pounds of sugar. I know, I know. Just breathe through it. You won’t actually be consuming most of the sugar.
To start, I got a small pot of water boiling, and cut a little cross into the skin of each plum, then set them in the water, a few at a time, for 15 seconds or so. Once you’ve done this, the skins will come off easily.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (seems “moderately warm” to me)
At this point, I will say that I did the whole process twice, because I couldn’t quite decide what would be the best way to deal with the plum pits. The first time, I’d had the plums for several days before I preserved them, so they were quite ripe and rather soft. I did the preserving process with the plums whole, then tried to pit them afterward. As a result, they had a beautiful brilliant yellow color and a really good flavor, but they were so soft that they barely held their shape.
The second time, I preserved the plums right away when they were less ripe. I decided to pit the plums after peeling them, basically slicing them in half alongside the pit. This leaves a bit of flesh attached to the pit, but I saved those along with the skins to make jelly out of later! This resulted in a nicer texture, but they weren’t quite as pretty or flavorful.
SO I would suggest a hybrid approach: let your plums ripen a bit, not too much, and then pit them before preserving. (I also did some that I left whole, since the recipe was really unclear about when and/or whether and/or how to pit them, but I can’t really imagine the ministers having to spit out the pits at Marilla’s dinner table!)
ANYWAY, once you’ve peeled and pitted, add the sugar and fruit in alternating layers in some sort of ceramic dish with a lid, or a stone jar(?) if you happen to have such a thing handy. For me, the sugar completely covered the fruit! (Another question…should I have weighed the fruit before or after pitting? hmm)
Place in the oven, turn the heat off, and leave for several hours or overnight. Don’t worry, the reason for all this sugar is to prevent bacteria from growing!
Here’s what the first batch looked like after sitting in the oven overnight. There did end up being quite a bit of undissolved sugar left in the bottom of the dish at the end, and I just ended up tossing it, (or more accurately, laboriously dissolving it out of the dish with hot water). But if I did this again, I would try boiling it into the syrup in order to make it preserve better, since one of my batches ended up getting moldy after a few weeks in the fridge (however I did not actually process and seal the jars–if I had it would probably have been fine.)
And the final product! They looked so pretty.
Here’s the first version–you can see how soft they were.
I’m not sure what Marilla did, but I ate them with cream and was VERY happy. The plums are surprisingly not overly sweet–they have a nice tangy flavor. I would have tried to find a minister to serve it to, but I don’t really know any (would an Episcopal priest count?) and also, you know, COVID.
Bonus: plum jelly! I boiled the pits (with remaining fruit on them) and the skins with enough water to cover, then drained it overnight in a jelly bag, and combined the resulting juice with an equal weight of sugar. It jelled quite nicely and was a nice rosy amber color.
I also had quite a bit of plum syrup left over–I’m thinking I’ll mix it with soda water for spritzes.
Did it measure up?
Yes! The preserves were delightful and I feel they would be wasted on ministers who are supposed to abjure the pleasures of the physical world. Much like Davy, Miko’s wife Laura couldn’t resist eating the last of their share of the preserves, and Miko, like Anne, was NOT pleased.