After a fairly hectic summer filled to the brim with activities, fall announced itself in no uncertain terms last week. I felt myself dragging my heels at first refusing to give in to apple tarts, soups of any kind or anything remotely hinting at pumpkin or spice. But inevitably I’ve had to face facts. Fall is here and it’s only a matter of time until I make my first batch of soup and the sound of rain on our windows sounds cozy instead of depressing.
We’ve been taking the opportunity of a slower season to take a little longer to do things. Orion and I have started taking walks since school is back in session and the local playground is off limits. We’ve been taking fifteen to twenty minutes to explore the three blocks leading back to our house. I said slower, didn’t I. And yet you’d be amazed at how much a toddler can find to marvel at in one block, let alone three.
We’ve talked about the difference between sun and shade, met rolly pollys, learned about ants and stopped to watch them, met neighborhood dogs, and unearthed small treasures like this ladybug peaking out from flowers around the corner from our house or the elfin-sized swing tucked away under a cyprus that only someone Orion’s height could discover. If it had been summer we would have been rushing through sprinklers or playing with friends outside, too busy to notice the wonder tucked into the edges of our daily lives.
So take advantage of this change in seasons to spend a little longer making a hot breakfast and then sit down on the kitchen floor to share it. Or see the buskers at the farmers market through your kids eyes and let him walk back and forth between two performers for twenty plus minutes unable to chose which he’d rather dance to. And if you’re feeling brave even try to listen to your one and a half year old when they tell you they are perfectly capable of carrying an egg from the chicken coop to the kitchen by themselves. As it turns out sometimes they aren’t but other times they’ll make it all the way inside the door and deliver the egg safely.
I’m not saying taking the extra time is easy because god knows it’s not, at least not for me. This is exactly the kind of thing I struggle with on a daily basis as a parent. I’ve never been patient, not one day in my life. Not even when faced with the possibility of bed rest do I slow down. For the majority of pregnancy I was having to teach myself for the first time in my life how to just relax and stop long enough to at least drink a glass of water. But I find that when I actually find the capacity within myself to take some extra time to devote my full undivided attention to Orion, it feel so good. These are often the most rewarding moments of parenting.
I’m not sure the same can be said of cooking. While it’s nice to lose yourself deep in a recipe, elbow deep in prep work or staring into the pot as you stir and stir, it’s not necessarily a truism that the longer a dish takes to make the better it takes. So I bring you a recipe I just tried that’s patient in a different type of way. I’ve made many fruit butters before but always cursed under my breath at the bubbling pot on the stove managing to splatter every last spot on the kitchen wall. I stumbled upon this recipe from one of my favorite bloggers The Wednesday Chef for a plum butter that uses a different, slower technique. The plums are left to macerate overnight then popped in the oven for a nice long, splatter-free cooking, then pureed and canned. Almost as easy as a walk around the block.
While I’ve given in to fall, it was with one last hurrah to summer that I picked up several pounds of these beautiful little Italian plums at the market. Plums are the perfect bridge between summer and fall. And Italian plums, while often overlooked, are my favorite plums. They are, for one thing, the perfect sized snack for a toddler and are surprisingly drip-free with freestone pits that can be handed over to mom. They also are little work horses full of complex flavor in a deceptively small package. They are great in a simple cake, good for a crumble, or can be quickly stewed in a little bit of wine and sugar and eaten with marscapone or spooned over ice cream. They’ll also do just the trick served over yogurt with a handful of toasted oats for breakfast.
Tips and Tricks:
- When making fruit butters, as with jam, make sure to use a heavy bottomed pan, especially in this recipe where the fruit is stewed in the oven. A heavier pot will do a better job of retaining and conducting the heat to evenly cook the fruit. Make sure though that if you’re using a Le Creuset pot that you let the pot warm up some once it comes out of the fridge before throwing it in a hot oven as large swings in temperature can cause the pot to crack.
- The fruit should cook down to a jam-like consistency with the fruit breaking down a bit and the liquid reducing to a thicker, syrup-y liquid. If you find once you puree the fruit that the consistency is too loose, you can always put the mixture back in the stove to cook away more of the liquid.
- See our earlier posts on Strawberry Preserves for tips and tricks on what tools are useful to have on hand and how to sterilize jars.
A fairly hands off recipe to take advantage of those last morsels of summer that you can still find tucked away in bins at the farmers market. I’m excited to try this technique for other fruit butters like apple or pear ginger.
Quantity: 4 half-pint jars
Time to Prepare: 1 hour and 30 minutes
2 lbs italian plums
1 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
Pit and halve the plums into a large, heavy pot. Add the sugar, the cinnamon stick, and cloves and stir well. Let sit overnight or for at least eight hours in your fridge.
Then next day pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the pot into the oven without a lid and cook for two to three hours, stirring every once in a while to make sure the mixture is not sticking to the bottom of the pot.
About thirty minutes before the fruit looks done, sterilize the glass jar and lids in boiling water or in the dish washer.
You’ll know the fruit is ready when the plums have broken down some what and the liquid has reduced to a thick jam. Look at the picture above for more guidance. Remove the pot from the oven and take out the cinnamon stick and cloves. Then using an immersion blender, puree the plum butter until it is smooth and the consistency of a fruit butter. The butter should be of a spreadable consistency. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a standard blender but blend the fruit in small batches as hot liquids in a blender can sometimes pop the top off the blender causing a royal mess.
Using a wide-mouth canning funnel, fill the sterilized jars with the fruit butter, leaving a quarter inch of space, and place the lids on top. You can then either turn the jars upside down to seal the lids or if you’re a bit more paranoid like me, you can put the jars into a boiling water bath for ten minutes. The fruit butter should keep in your pantry for several months. I doubt it will last that long once you taste it.