PING! PING! PING!……What a wonderful sound! No, that’s not several M1 Garands ejecting clips at the same time- (which is also a wonderful sound)- but the sound of canning jar lids sealing. Growing and preserving your home-grown food or in this case what nature has provided is a critical skill for the independent American. Starvation has been man’s constant companion during our time on Earth, never far away, always lurking, and even in times of plenty, certainly part of our hardwired consciousness. Food has long been and is currently being used as a weapon, tens of millions of dead Chinese and Ukrainians testify as to its effectiveness. Few things put a mind at ease more than a well-stocked pantry and knowing that you can produce and preserve your own food as needed.
I am a simple man. There are few things I like better than simple food- a sandwich, a good bowl of chili or stew, a pork chop, bacon and eggs…… The humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich, much despised these days and seen as borderline child abuse in our modern era is a comfort food to me. I’m a Jif man, crunchy, and we always have at least a dozen jars of it in our food stores. Peanut butter offers decent nutrition, is easy to prepare, is widely available, fairly inexpensive and stores well for a long time– But that’s not what this article is about. Whether store bought or homemade (Why would you not?) jelly or jam is a critical part of the PB and J equation. My wife makes an absolutely divine Triple Berry Jam- Strawberry, Raspberry and Blackberry, that forms the backbone of our stores in this area. My favorite jelly or jam however is the deep red, wild sand plum version. The biggest problem with it is that yields of wild plums are so variable due to moisture and heat. Some years, like this one, the plum bushes are overloaded with fruit and in other years they do well just to live to next season. Birds and other wildlife will compete with you for the bounty and of course, beware of snakes while picking.
The plums are red to orange in color when ripe and about the size of a thumbnail most places. The plums contain a small pit, which of course helps propagate the bushes. The fruit ranges from sweet to tart in flavor though normally more on the tart side. The process of turning the fruit into jam or jelly is the same as with most fruits and berries- extract juice or smash fruit into pulp, add pectin and sugar, heat, place in jars and water bath process.
From the time I remove the plums from the freezer to the above mentioned Ping!, takes about an hour of preparation and work- though this can vary wildly quite honestly….. The first batch of jelly I made this year, was a disaster. I hadn’t made any jelly in several years- that whole moisture/weather thing had denied us much in the way of plums recently. Like most things in life, the more you do it, the better you get and making jelly is no different, the second batch came off with about 800% less cursing and many fewer pots, pans, spoons etc…being used. Wife still thinks I destroyed her kitchen in the process but the results speak for themselves-
Maybe you don’t have wild plums- but nature provides many other possibilities- cactus fruit, muscadines, blackberries or blueberries and there is always your garden produce or even farmers market finds. The plums I used for this project were given to me by friends, the weather conspired against me this year in getting out much and I’m grateful for the gift! Look around, you might be surprised how many “abandoned” fruit trees there are in your neighborhood….a knock on a door- and maybe a jar or two of the end product, will often get you all the fruit you can pick. The important thing is that you are putting away food AND that you are learning the process now when the cost of failure is some of your time and a few dollars in produce. A simple, deep pot, some canning jars and lids, a heat source and a $10 accessory pack from Walmart and you can start to put food away. Peace of mind in a jar.