Have you ever heard of a Damson plum? They’re a small subspecies of plum with a long history and a droopy, oblong shape. And according to jam makers Anna and Tyler Keyes of Orleans, they’re worth seeking out.
“We’ve got a small cult following that really likes damson plums,” Tyler told me. “We cook them up just like you would a larger plum, and they’re a little bit easier to deal with, really easy to cook down. And they’re got this really nice dark sweet flavor.”
“They have a significantly richer flavor than a standard plum,” Anna explained. “Where a standard plum is tart, they have a deeper, richer flavor to them.”
I asked if they pitted them, and if was a jam or a jelly they made.
“Yeah, we take out the pits,” Tyler said. “And it’s a jam. We don’t need to peel them or anything like that. Just put it all in!”
In England damson plums were popular for commercial jam making up until World War Two, when wartime sugar rationing interrupted the industry and changing tastes meant it didn’t come back. Early colonists brought the damson to the U.S., where it did better than many other European plum varieties. Still, it isn’t common today, as it’s better for preserves than for eating fresh.
Tyler says his and Anna’s recipe came together from a combination of modern and historic cookbooks.
Because damson plums are fairly sweet, Anna and Tyler don’t add much sugar, and by including some slightly under-ripe fruits, they get plenty of natural pectin, so they don’t have to add that either.
During the growing season, Anna and Tyler spend roughly five days a week making jams and jellies to sell at their stand at the Orleans Farmers Market. The process is long and hot, but Anna has a long history with the work.
“My parents have been putting things in jars since before I was born,” she said. “And our first batch we made with my dad standing over our shoulder, and just trying to keep up a history—basically, a lost art form.”
With couples like Anna and Tyler Keyes leading the charge, canning is making a comeback—both locally and around the country. The past few years have seen a resurgence of home canning books with titles like Canning for a New Generation and Food in Jars, and almost every local farmers market has a booth selling preserves. As for damson plums, the season runs from mid August through September.
Damson Plum Jam
from the kitchen of: Little Bay Jams
adapted from: Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan
Yield: 8 (½-pint) jars
- 8 cups damson plums, pitted, finely chopped, and slightly smashed with potato masher
- 4 cups granulated sugar
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 2 packets liquid pectin
Place jars into canner and fill with enough water to cover 1” over tops of jars. Bring canner to a boil. Place lids in a small saucepan, cover with water, and simmer over very low heat.
Combine plums and sugar in a large pot and bring to a boil. Boil for 10-15 minutes until jam begins to look syrupy. Add lemon zest and juice, and liquid pectin, and return mixture to a rolling boil. Boil for 5 minutes.
Remove jam from heat. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Wipe jar rims, apply lids and rings, and return filled jars to canner. Bring canner back to a boil, and boil filled jars for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, remove canner lid, and allow jars to sit for 5 minutes before removing them from the canner. Place jars on a heat-proof surface and listen for the ping sounds as they seal – That’s our favorite part! Allow jars to cool for 24 hours, then check seals. Store in a cool, dark place for up to a year. (Refrigerate any jars that do not seal properly.)
This report was first broadcast September 15, 2016