The first time I laid eyes on these plums, the trees were groaning with them. It was August, the day we took possession of our Vancouver Island home in 2016. While David, his brother Norm and sister-in-law Cheryl stood in the courtyard surveying the exterior of the house, I trotted down the driveway to find out what was green and growing on our 2.5 acres.
Huge rhododendron bushes and plum trees lined the driveway. Shiny red plums, no bigger than marbles, glinted in the sun. None were nearby, but all shone like Christmas ornaments far from reach in the tall, skinny trees.
A huge black raven flew over, each flap of its massive wings vibrating overhead. My eyes fell on saffron-painted plums poking out from leafy branches nearby. They were tiny little wonders no bigger than the cherry tomatoes growing in my downtown Toronto containers. Each orangey-yellow orb was splashed with traces of red. Warm to touch in the hot August sun, I picked one and popped it in my mouth, smiling wide. It had a sweet, pulpy juiciness.
A search ensued! In three minutes, my makeshift t-shirt pouch bulged with a colourful, but slightly moist and sticky bounty. Juice was trickling out from the overripe, split ones that came in every hungry handful I snatched away from the tree.
With no room for more to carry, I snacked heavily, reducing my load by half as I came closer to another variety-in-waiting. Heavy green clusters of plums weighted down the branches bringing them closer to my reach. Alas, these golf ball-size beauties were sour and hard: Not ready for prime-time picking. I spat out my pit and was surprised to watch it join dozens littered in the grass below, all fallen from the mouths of marauding deer.
On another branch — Hope. One once green had ripened to a deep yellow, beckoning. I was perched on rocks that lined the stone walkway down to the dry pond nearby. Teetering on one foot, then the next, I managed to shake the ripe branch and gather the sweet morsels that fell to the ground, avoiding those that fell upon a mound of shiny, black pellets. Deer scat.
I returned to the house and found the others, tracing their voices echoing through the empty halls. None seemed as eager to sample my found fruit as I, but each nodded their head politely after a taste.
This was just the beginning. What food writer in her right mind isn’t obsessed with gathering sweet, ripe FREE fruit hanging from trees? It’s like finding money dangling from the leaves.
On superhot summer BC days, when the thermometer slips over 30 and it’s crazy to get out of the shade or up from a lounge chair, I drag my husband out on a blackberry pick. We wear PPE: Long pants, long sleeve shirts, boots and gloves. We dig out the lawn clippers and apple crates from the garage. Then we cruise through the windy roads of Maple Bay and environs, searching for manna from the heavens. When we spot black swaths of untouched, unblemished, fat, ripe, abundant berries overhead we no longer cry in vain, thinking they’re unreachable. We simply laugh an arrogant chuckle, deeming ourselves seasoned professionals. David clips the clusters and I catch them in a waiting apple crate beneath his arms. Once we’ve filled the crates, we aim to stop, but never can. There’s always another ripe berry around the corner and a few empty plastic bags to hold them.
Pounds upon pounds of ripe, sweet fruit cannot be consumed instantly. Berries are flash frozen on trays in single layers or tucked into a rustic tart or two. But plums, especially the ones in our orchard, are more troublesome. The pulp to pit ratio is about 50:50. I have cooked them in huge pots on the stovetop or roasted them in the oven, but afterwards, there are still all those pits to contend with. A food mill can help the process but nothing works finer than my Mehu-Liisa 111 made in Finland.
This three-tiered stovetop pot is basically a small distiller or “steam juicer”. The bottom is filled with water heated to a boil on the stovetop, while the middle portion holds the juice which falls into this catchment area from the large steamer above holding quarts of picked fresh fruit on top. Take off the stopper and hot clear juice empties out from the fitted plastic hose attachment. Last time I used my Mehu-Liisa 111 I packed it full with 14 pounds of fruit, turned on the heat and collected five liters of juice in under an hour.
Sadly, plum juice is not a favourite beverage, but it makes beautiful jelly that I can slip into my suitcase and gift friends and family each time I fly back home to Toronto. That way, I can bring a taste of our BC orchard across the country and share the wealth because money found on trees is simply delish.
Herd Road Lavender Plum Jelly
The golden hue of this yellow plum jelly is painted purple with the addition of lavender and whole blackberries. After canning, check all the jars for a tight seal. Makes 14 ½ 250 ml jars of jelly.
12 cups plum juice *
4 tbsp lemon juice
6 tsp Pomona’s Universal calcium water
2 tsp unsalted butter
4 cups refined sugar
9 tsp Pomona’s Universal pectin
½ cup dried lavender or lemon thyme
1 cup frozen blackberries
In a large wide pot heat plum juice, lemon juice, calcium water and butter and bring to a rapid boil.
Combine sugar and pectin in a bowl, then add to juice once it is rapidly boiling. Stir mixture until it comes back to a full boil then take off the heat. Carefully remove foam.
Remove hot sterilized jars and arrange on counter. Put 2-3 frozen blackberries and ½ tsp lavender in each jar before filling with plum mixture leaving ¼ inch headspace and lidding fingertip tight. Process 10 minutes in boiling water.
Remove from canner and listen for a satisfying pop as each lid seals. All the lavender and blackberries will have floated to the top. Wait a few hours for your jelly to gel and cool, then turn a jar upside down to test if the jelly has thickened enough to suspend solids in the middle of the jar. If so, leave upside down for 8 hrs or overnight.
*Substitute with apple or white grape juice