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ginger-cinnamon plum butter

Posted Aug 13 2009 7:27pm

I'm going to be visiting friends in Salt Lake City for the next few days, so I wanted to post at least one recipe before that dietary black hole that is traveling. I've committed to eating salad during my trip, lots and lots and lots of salad. Traveling always makes my stomach upset, but salad is safe. Vegan tiramisu from Sage's Cafe should break up the monotony, three or four times a day.

I got sick from that trip to Arizona, or more specifically, I got sick from living in a climate-controlled environment for two weeks, never going outside, and eating too much sugar, and then sitting in the airport with my two children for several hours waiting for the delayed plane to take us back to California. I just barely got over being sick and now I'm going to travel again. I'm really not cut out for the nomadic life.

Despite being sick, I propelled myself outdoors and into nature after coming back to NorCal, because I woke up one morning to such a fantastically beautiful day that I fell down on my knees to kiss the glorious earth that is not-Arizona-in-July (deargod). It was cloudy, breezy, perfectly cool, the lake was choppy, and it was so gorgeous that despite my sickness, I forced my family into the car and out for an adventure.

During that adventure we found thousands of wild blackberry bushes that could barely be grazed upon given the thorns. We plan to go back in a few weeks when more berries are ripe, hoping to bring home just a few pints if we can - it's worth it. But we also found a dozen trees covered with tiny plums in various stages of ripeness. Of course, we grabbed a basket and piled in exactly! ten pounds of them and hauled them home for . . . something. I wasn't sure what.

At first I thought, naturally, jam! But as always, I looked up the instructions for jam and changed my mind. I didn't have any pectin in the house and I didn't have any mason jars and I didn't have anything, really, that could be used for making a good batch of jam, including the commitment. So I decided to fall back on my old friend, the fruit butter.

Fruit butter is so easy to make, and so flavorful and healthy, that it really puts jam to shame. Minimal sugar is needed in comparison to jam. Butters are very forgiving, because you don't need an exact recipe. You can throw anything in there that appeals to you without worrying that it will interfere with the pectin or sugar. Or you can throw nothing in there and just enjoy the condensed flavor of fresh fruit.

I've made many fruit butters and they've never failed on me. The only thing you really need, other than fruit, a pot and a heating implement, is time. Fruit butters can take over an hour to cook. I've cooked them in the oven and on the stove and in either case, you need to be nearby to stir it frequently so it doesn't end up scorched, and you need to be patient to allow the slow cooking to reduce and condense the fruit.

I'm not going to give an exact recipe for this butter; I was just hoping to inspire you to try this yourself. It really makes a fantastic spread for toast or sandwiches, or for just eating right out of the jar with a spoon.

I had 4.6 pounds of golden plums and 6.4 pounds of various red plums. The final product made about 5 cups of butter, which means it reduced by about two-thirds. This is the only potential drawback of buttering your fruit, but I prefer to weigh my consideration in favor of the intensified fruit flavor rather than volume loss.

I decided to split the batches by color. I spent a lo-o-o-o-ong time de-seeding the plums, probably an hour for each batch.

Then I placed the plums in a blender and processed them so that no large chunks remained. I added a tablespoon of cinnamon and about two tablespoons of peeled, chopped ginger and processed the mix until it was smooth. After that I poured the plums into a sauce pan and added about a quarter-cup of maple syrup. I added a little more maple syrup, to taste, when the plums were almost fully-cooked. I recommend adding the bulk of your sweeteners at the end since the natural sweetness of the fruit will become concentrated.

At this point you bring the plums to a boil and then reduce the heat to its lowest setting. The fruit needs to simmer for about an hour without a lid. Stir the fruit regularly to keep it from scorching. At the end the fruit will be quite thick and probably spitting. At this point I partially cover the pot, just enough to keep the spitting from making a huge mess.

At the end of cooking, I added about a tablespoon of cornstarch combined with an equal amount of cold water and continued whisking while that was incorporated. When the butter was the thickness of jam, I set it aside for an hour to cool.

At this point you should be able to test the butter to make sure it's thick enough. Some people do this by putting a small amount on a plate and tilting the plate to see if water runs out of it or if it's too runny. I've never done that myself; I just scoop some out and taste it to feel its texture. If you want it thicker, you can continue to cook it for a while, but the cornstarch will firm it up even more in the refrigerator.

I store excess butter in glass jars in the freezer, leaving half an inch for expansion. It keeps for quite a while in the refrigerator - I've kept peach butter for over a month.

I've made butters from all sorts of fruits, and I've also made some from pumpkins. This process is the same for all butters. You can make a butter from any amount of fruit. A very small amount of fruit can become butter in 20 minutes.

Tip from Jeremy, who was forced to attend to the second batch while it was cooking and also to clean up the massacre: If you scorch the jam on the bottom of the pan, soak it in water overnight. If you still can't get the char off, cover it with water and bring it to a boil. By the time the water is hot, you should be able to clean it off without much trouble.
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