Plum Chutney: Tales from the Backyard

Canning for me conjures up childhood memories of being in the kitchen with my mom and her friends, usually on a hot steamy Texas summer day, and "putting up" bread and butter pickles, fresh raspberry jam (with seeds!), and ripe whole tomatoes. Even with the sweat pouring down your face, there's no better time to can than in the middle of the summer, at the height of the season, when everything is bursting with flavor: crisp cucumbers, ripe red tomatoes, juicy stone fruits, plump berries. Better still when you can pick that fruit out of your own garden.

We are lucky enough to have a big shady plum tree, right smack in the middle of our little garden, right smack in the heart of the Mission in San Francisco. If you think that isn't fair, then start making friends with people who have fruit trees and vegetable gardens; we always seem to have more than we can eat or harvest and are looking for others who will enjoy it.

Tales of plum wine gone awry (think essence of gasoline) from years past still haunt my flat and the flats above me. And last year we missed the boat and the plums ripened before we could harvest them. Which meant tracking slimy fruit globs into the house, sticky matted fur on the cat, and drunken birds and rats feasting on the fermenting fruit. In an effort to avoid that joyous occurrence (have I not painted a lovely picture?), my roommate Gary (staunch believer in preparing for the revolution) made a concerted effort to rally the troops and plan for the big harvest.

So a few weeks ago, when the tree was bursting with perfectly ripe, big juicy green plums, we set aside our sunny Sunday and three of us--armed with our giant canning pot, a ladder, and numerous plastic grocery bags--plucked all of the plums we could reach.


After throwing around elaborate ideas of jams and jellies and syrups and pickles and more, including drawing up a chart of flavors that go well with plum (including but not limited to cardamom, ginger, and whisky) as well as different preparations (including roasting the plums) we arrived at a consensus: to prepare a simple plum jam that would let the tart yet subtle plum flavor shine, and a more interesting plum and apple chutney.

It took all day, but after a while, the cold beers came out, the sweat started pouring down our faces, and it was all worth it.

G-Street Plum Chutney
Makes about 14 8-oz jars

2 cups sugar (or a bit less if the plums are very sweet)
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cinnamon, broken into 1-inch pieces
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thickly sliced
1 teaspoon whole allspice
About 6 1/2 lbs plums, pitted and quartered
2 large apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and diced
1/2 large yellow onion, peeled and finely diced

In a large, heavy pot, combine the sugar, vinegar, water, and salt. In a 6-inch square of cheesecloth, tie the cinnamon sticks, ginger, and allspice into a pouch and add it to the pot. Heat the mixture over medium-high heat until boiling, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 5 minutes until the mixture becomes syrupy.

Add the plums, apples, and onions. Cook, stirring often, over low heat, until the mixture is thickened, about 40-60 minutes. Remove the spice bag. Seal in hot sterilized jars.

For proper canning instructions, check out:

A very serious and official guide

A good online step-by-step guide

Paul and Bernice, who are awesome!

special thanks to Gary and Keith for the lovely plummy pix