We’ve had so many plums this season, despite the wind that destroyed so many in mid-December. I’ve been making ‘Plum Everything’, including having started a batch of plum wine. But I think there is nothing nicer than a Plum Jam, as it’s so versatile.
This year I decided to invent a spicy version – and it’s turned out extremely well.
For the spicy component I used Habanero that I’d grown last season and had frozen, as our current plant is too small to produce any fruit yet. It’s been a slow season in the garden due to the inclement weather in December.
Habanero is my absolute favourite chili pepper. It has such an amazing flavour – very fragrant and fruity, as well as the excellent kick it provides (it rates as 100,000 to 350,000 on the Scoville Scale).
This jam is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s definitely worth making. It can be added to sauces or used as a condiment just as it is, or (of course) spread on your toast as a rich and spicy jam.
About 5.5 kilos (around 12 lbs) red-skinned plums, stones removed
3 – 4.5 cups white sugar
4 whole Habanero, seeds removed
Chop the plums up roughly and put them in a large preserving pan. Sprinkle the sugar on top and let them sit like this for an hour or so, stirring from time to time to help the sugar dissolve.
Bring this slowly to the boil, stirring at frequent intervals to prevent anything sticking to the base of the pan. Once boiling steadily, maintain the boil for about 10 minutes then turn off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Repeat the above process 3 times (or more if you would like a thicker jam). The main thing to remember is that you have to stir frequently, especially while you are waiting for the fruit to come to the boil, to avoid the fruit sticking to the bottom of the pan and scorching.
If this does happen, don’t panic… transfer the jam to another container without scraping any of the ‘caught’ jam from the bottom of the pan. Wash the pan then carry on with the process. You can stop and start with this recipe easily.
This batch produced about 3 litres of wonderfully rich jam. Actually, I could just eat it directly from the spoon, rather than add it to anything else. 🙂
Red Plums versus Yellow Plums
You could use yellow-skinned plums for this recipe, or even greengages, but the red-skinned plums give the jam the most wonderfully rich colour, even using yellow-fleshed plums as I have.
I began with 3.5 cups of sugar and then tested the flavour part way through the cooking. It was then that I decided to add an additional .5 of a cup. It’s a matter of personal taste and also, the sugar level in the plums themselves. Also, I like to cut down added sugar where I can, so I tend to start out with a bit less in a recipe such as this, and then add more if I need to.
The above recipe has been adapted from a recipe I found on the Natasha’s Kitchen site.
Today started out clear, sunny and calm, but it clouded over as the day progressed. It’s clearer now, but there is a storm traveling up from the South Island, and although it’s unlikely to travel this far north, we have been experiencing very strong South-Westerly winds, as can be seen by the cloud patterns to the west.
Our planned excursion to Helensville this morning was aborted half way there, as the road was closed due to a truck having rolled on one of the corners. Rather than wait around for an hour or more for the tow truck to arrive and sort things out, we decided to head back home.
I spent some time this afternoon cutting back the ratty leaves on my tomatoes. I spotted a couple of cabbage looper caterpillars, Trichoplusia ni, and picked them off. I’ve posted images of these on the Nature Watch NZ site. I love this site as it’s helped me to identify many of the unfamiliar bugs and plants I’ve come across since we’ve lived at South Head.
But I digress. Last summer these caterpillars wrought havoc on my tomatoes – not only did they eat the leaves, which isn’t too much of a problem in itself, but they also like to tunnel into the actual tomatoes and many were spoiled. From what I’ve read, I suspect that my tomato plants are becoming vulnerable due to there not having been any rainfall since Christmas. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, but if not, we’ll have to give our garden a decent watering.
Our hens like to eat the caterpillars, so it is with some satisfaction that I feed them any that I find.
The photo above shows how little garlic we have left! But the garlic we harvested around this time in 2013 has lasted all year so we haven’t had to purchase any.
Our garlic plants aren’t looking that amazing … again, the soil has become very dry. We did dig in a decent amount of compost during the year, but with our light soil, it just seems to become absorbed really quickly. And of course, I’ve been lazy about weeding. The garlic bulbs will be ready to lift and dry when the foliage dries off and turns brown.
The tawny leaves that can be seen lying on the the soil amongst the plants are from the huge Lilly Pilly trees that line our back fence. There doesn’t seem to be one time of the year that they don’t shed their leaves. At first this used to drive me mad, but I’m accustomed to them now. Every so often I make the effort to sweep them all up and add them to our compost heap.
We’d also started a bag of leaves for leaf mulch – but I must admit that although I started out really keen to keep the leaves separate, I lost interest within a few days of starting the bag.
Another garden task we tackled today was the removal of an overgrown lemon grass plant. I must admit that when we purchased it as a precious, tiny plant three years ago, I thought that a spot in the vegetable garden would be just fine, but it’s grown out of proportion to what I’d expected. And I worry when it’s seeding (as it has been for the last several weeks).
I use lemon grass from time to time when marinating prawns or cooking up something Asian, but I don’t tend to use it often enough to allow it free reign in my garden.
So, Ben had the task of digging up this unfortunate plant and we’ll buy a new one at some point and decide on a more appropriate place somewhere else on the property.
Other than that, I’ve had a pretty lazy day. Ben had pulled out a row of bolting celery a couple of days ago, so we’ve sowed the following seeds in the space freed up by its removal: –
Carrot ‘Touchon’ (Daucus carota var sativa) , Mesclun Lettuce Mix (Lactuca sativa), Radish ‘Easter Egg’ (Raphanus sativus), Pea ‘Easy Peasy’ (Pisum sativum) and Organic Rocket (Eruca sativa).
For those not familiar with botanical names, you’ll notice the use of the word ‘sativa’ or versions of this in the names of all the seeds. Sativum, Sativus, and Sativa are Latin botanical adjectives meaning ‘cultivated’, applied to certain seed-grown domestic crops.
What a hot day it’s been! One of my plans for today was to find a use for the remaining plums along with some of the strawberries, now that latter are ripening up nicely.
I had been reading about rum pots, also known as rumtopf and romkrukke. This seemed like a really cool way to preserve some of our fruits as they come to fruition on our trees. I’ve mostly missed the boat re the plums, but starting now, I should be able to use our strawberries, pears, tamarillo and feijoa. I also collected a few Cape gooseberries, as these grow like weeds around our property.
The ideal container for a rum pot is a ceramic container or a dark jar, as the fruit should be protected from bright light. I was also looking for something that would hold a decent amount of fruit. In the end, the best containers I could find were some tall, glass spaghetti jars, enclosed in a metal sleeve, with a wee window on one side. Into these I layered the fruit with 1/2 their weight in white sugar, then topped them up with dark rum until the fruit was just covered.
Sad Cherry Tale
Some years ago, my daughter Amiria had brought me back a small bucket of export quality lapin cherries from Summerfruit Orchards in Central Otago, where she had been employed fruit-picking. I saved a few of the finest specimens, added them to a sturdy glass jar and covered them with brandy. I kept this jar of cherries for 3 to 4 months, having placed it in a shady place at the corner of my kitchen bench – I’d rotate the jar regularly to keep the alcohol circulated through the fruit.
Ben was washing dishes one day and thought the jar of cherries something old to be discarded, so he tipped them into my compost bucket. I didn’t notice that they were missing until it was too late. I’m sure I’d have scooped them out of the compost bucket if I’d known straight away!
I still wonder about those cherries – what they would have tasted like… But it’s a lesson on letting people know about the strange concoctions we have in our kitchens.
It’s time to allow our asparagus plants to produce their ferny foliage so that they can grow strong and healthy for our Spring 2014 crop. These plants have been in place for 4 years now, and this year we were eating spears continually from the end of September through to the end of December. We had put in some plants of the regular green variety as well as having sown seeds of the purple, Asparagus Sweet Purple.
Freshly-picked asparagus, lightly steamed and served with melted butter is one of the special flavours of a spring garden.
It’s been a busy time for Ben, collecting as much sweet corn as he can, before he runs out of energy. Over the past 2 days, he’s harvested around 150 ears and has spent a good proportion of the day scraping off the kernels and freezing them free-flow for winter use. It’s a time-consuming task and not much fun when it’s so hot outside, but well worth it. He’s also frozen some of our runner beans.
I mixed up a batch of corn fritters for lunch – couldn’t resist it! They were yummy!
Other Garden Tasks
Other garden tasks undertaken today included cutting back the spent sweet peas from the back fence of our main vegetable garden.
Around February last year I collected seeds from a patch of sweet peas I had sown the previous Winter. We sowed these this year to see how they would turn out. The blooms haven’t been as strong, nor as fragrant, and are in a very narrow range of colours: scarlet, vermillion and shades of pink, none of them particularly vivid.
This was disappointing on a couple of levels as (1) I’m not a pink or a red kind of a girl, and (2) I prefer my flowers to have a fragrance.
The same can’t be said for our gardenia which has been flowering very well this year compared with last year. We saved this shrub from our previous property in Titirangi, where it struggled with the paucity of sunlight. I do love the beautiful waxy flowers with their creamy, honeysuckle fragrance.
Another plant currently providing brilliant colour to the garden is the bougainvillea, Scarlet O’Hara. This is another plant we saved from Titirangi. There, it barely produced a single new shoot, and failed utterly to produce the beautiful crimson bracts.
We also recently planted a very garish looking hibiscus, Hibiscus Golden Oriel, a Hawaiian hybrid. I couldn’t resist it, but usually don’t like flowers that combine the colour yellow with red!
Other tasks for today have involved checking on how the vegetables are progressing. I have a habit of walking around my garden at least once a day, but often go back again in the late afternoon, mainly to check on what needs pruning or cutting back, or which vegetables are ready for harvest, which need to be pulled out, etc. To be honest, there is not enough hours in the day, so I tend to just do the things that interest me at the time.
Today I was especially pleased with the progress of my squashes, Burgess Buttercup and Butternut Chieftain. I’ve grown these two as I particularly like the taste of their flesh. Also, they are extremely prolific, which means we’ll be provided with many individual squashes of a perfect size for two people.
I’ve also grown a new pumpkin this year, Thelma Saunders Sweet Potato. According to information I have read, this is the sweetest of the heirloom acorn squashes and is named after Thelma Sanders of Adair County, Missouri. It is renowned for its cooking qualities and has won many a harvest bake-off competition in the USA.
It doesn’t seem to be producing as many pumpkins as I’d hoped, but there is still plenty of time until the end of the season.
I obtained seed for both the pumpkin and the squashes from Kings Seeds.
The passion fruit, macadamia nuts and pears are developing as expected. I really need to somehow get to the top of the pear tree to thin the pears… ideally there should only be 2 – 3 fruit per bunch to allow them to grow properly.
The passion fruit are very fat and healthy looking, and the macadamia nuts look to be producing a good crop this year.
The tomatoes are fine, although they seem to be a bit slower to ripen than at the same time last year. I have grown several varieties from seed: Mortgage Lifter, Cherokee Purple, Bloody Butcher, Black from Tula, Black Krim and Sun Cherry. I especially like the ‘black’ tomatoes, but am always interested in trying new varieties.
The lettuces are bolting and I’ll have to compost them soon. The basil is slow to grow, too. I’m thinking this is to do with the lack of rain prior to Christmas, but they should put on good growth now that the weather has settled.
When the sun set today, we had generated a very respectable 14.59 KWh. Not bad for our 11 panel / 2 KW system. There is something so very satisfying about generating our own power from the sun. I’ll never take this for granted!