Perhaps it's the jewel-bright array of colours that greets me whenever I open the fridge door, in a motley selection of flavour combinations unmatched by any supermarket shelf and limited only by my imagination and my fruit supply.
Perhaps it's the fact that standing over a bubbling pot of fruit and sugar with wooden spoon in hand allows me to channel my inner crone and practice dramatic Shakespearean monologues about eyes of newt.
Perhaps it's the victorious metallic "PING!" of freshly processed jars sealing shut, and that inner Snoopy dance of happiness that sound evokes. That, my friends, is one of the happiest sounds on earth.
What I do know is that over the course of the summer, I've made small batches jam almost every weekend - red currant jam, brandied peach jam, whiskey marmalade, plum jam and cherry rhubarb compote. And yet, like a squirrel stockpiling peanuts for the winter, I still find myself wondering if I can squeeze in just one more batch before the summer's through, because that can't possibly be enough to get me through 'til springtime.
Of all the jams I've made this summer, this Gingery Plum Jam is my very favourite of them all.
It's sweet and intensely plummy, with a sharp gingery bite that comes from fresh grated ginger stirred in just at the end of the cooking time, so that the sharp, pungent flavour doesn't have a chance to cook off.
There's also a depth of flavour and a subtle je-ne-sais-quoi that comes from a rather generous splash of Amaro Averna, an Italian digestif for which I've recently developed quite an affinity. Don't let the name fool you - even though "amaro" is Italian for bitter, Averna is actually quite sweet, with notes of vanilla, caramel, citrus and just the faintest hint of bitter herbs - when mixed with soda, it's actually quite reminiscent of chinotto. Sadly, it's not always easy to find, which is why I've made it optional... if you prefer, replace it with red vermouth, Dubonnet or dark rum if you happen to have any of those kicking around, or leave it out altogether.
And the colour? Even though the jam begins with blue plums, which have a dark blueish-purple skin and pale yellow-green flesh, it cooks down into a gorgeous shade of reddish-purple that I can only describe as "plum" - which I guess just goes to show that most plums are indeed plum-coloured, at least deep down inside.
It's like an early fall evening, all bottled up in a jar - velvety dark and contemplative, and best enjoyed with a big mug of hot ginger tea. It whispers of warm wooly sweaters and stylish scarves, swirls of woodsmoke suspended in crisp air, long shadows cast by bright beams of golden sunlight streaming through the kitchen window, and the rustle of my booted feet as they shuffle through ankle-deep drifts of fallen leaves.
In fact, I'm pretty sure that that's what I love the most about making my own jam. It's the knowledge that on a cold winter morning in the not-so-distant future, when the whole world is blanketed in hushed shades of snow-white and grey and brown, I can count on a thin layer of jewel-bright colour on my toast to transport me back to a mellow, dusky purple late fall evening once more, if only for an instant. I'm not stockpiling jam. I'm stockpiling sensations.
- 2 lb tart plums, stems removed
- ¾ cup water
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 3 cups sugar
- ¼ cup grated ginger
- 2 tbsp Amaro Averna liqueur (optional)
- Pit plums and chop coarsely.
- In a large heavy pot with high sides, stir together the chopped plums, water, lemon juice and sugar. Bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves.
- Increase heat to high, and bring to a hard boil. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 25 minutes. Check for set.
- Once the mixture passes a set test, stir in the grated ginger and Averna. Continue cooking for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat and ladle into clean, sterilised jars, leaving ¼" headspace.
- Jam can be stored in the fridge for up to 6 months. For longer storage, process jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes and store the sealed jars in a cool, dry place for up to a year.