Plums are liars. Okay, not all plums lie, but when they do it’s really bad, but it’s nothing that booze and sugar can’t fix. Well, at least in this case.
As I’ve mentioned before in recipes made with plums, I have three varieties of plums growing in my little backyard orchard. Add on to it plums that I occasionally get from my parents’ tree and there are times we are all but sick of the sight of them. Many of them will either get dried as-is or in fruit leathers, the rest are frozen for enjoying later on when we are no longer seeing bright red orbs everywhere we look.
The other issue, as I mentioned earlier, is that some plums lie to you. Their shiny red and purple exteriors lead you to believe that you’re in for a juicy, sweet burst of flavor from the very first bite all the way to the pit. Then the truth comes out and your face is screwed up in that “I’m trying to foolishly look at the sun” kind of squint. Oh, was that a sour one? Why yes, yes it was.
Thankfully, sour things are easily fixed with its counterpart, sugar. Sugar also happens to be perfect for preserving food. Preserved food lasts a while so that you can enjoy those treats later in the year. Later in the year from summer just happens to be the winter holiday season. The winter holiday season is when we start talking about sugar plums while waiting for a particular visitor on what is usually a cold night. Cold nights are perfectly suited for sipping on a little something with loved ones gathered around a fire. Fire should never be played with. Okay, that’s done.
This method of preserving plums and other firm fruits is used throughout Greece during the summer months. The process takes advantage of the abundant sunshine and warmth to gently extract the juices from the fruit and slowly turn them into a delightful syrup. It is not uncommon to see glass jars filled with various colorful liquids being gently swirled by the home’s occupants, then placed back down on a sunny balcony or roof. The results can actually be used in a couple of ways, depending on your personal preferences, but no matter how you use your preserved bounty, you will be sure to enjoy every bit of it!
Some quick notes before you begin:
It is important to not add additional water to your fruit. Don’t worry if you don’t see a lot of liquid at first, trust me, by the time all is done there will be plenty. Adding water will dilute the sugar concentration and lead to a risk of spoilage.
Any type of plum will do, but you’ll get a really nice balance of flavor if you use one that is on the more tart side. The varieties of plums that are red on the inside tend to be sweeter already, and I’ve found that though they still work very well, they wind up being almost too sweet.
Resist the temptation to keep opening the jar to “check on things”. If you are using a clear jar (which you should), you’ll be able to see exactly what’s going on. Repeated opening will cause pressure changes, release water vapor and volatile oils that contain flavor, and increase risk of allowing something unwanted to fall in. Just leave it closed.
The forty day period is based on Eastern Orthodox Christian religious tradition, however it really is a good length of time to allow for all juices to be extracted, for sugar to be absorbed into the fruit, and for blending of flavors to occur. Again, be patient.
Don’t worry about the jar breaking due to heat. I live in an area that repeatedly hits 110 F during the summer months and have never had this happen. However, be sure to use a jar that is meant for canning or food storage, as these will have thicker walls and a properly secured lid. Don’t use plastic! The heat may cause chemicals in the plastic to leach into your food. There is no knowing what health impacts that may have and it will taint the flavor of your food.
If you live in an area that has summer storms (this is so foreign to me!), you may want to bring the jar in during those times to avoid risk of damage, then return the jar to a sunny location. There is no need to bring the jar in at all unless weather conditions or nosy critters are an issue.
Greek Plum Brandy and Spiced Candied Plums Recipe
For every pound of pitted plums, fresh or frozen, you will need (see my post on how to pit plums here):
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 to 3 whole cloves
- 2 to 3 allspice berries
- 1 to 2 inches of cinnamon stick (it is okay to use broken pieces)
All spices can be adjusted to taste, but keep in mind the flavor will be stronger due to the amount of time the spices will sit in the liquid. These amounts lead to a mildly spiced syrup where the flavor is noticeable but not too strong as to cover up the flavor of the plums.
Cut each plum into quarters. If using frozen plums, do not allow them to defrost first. Place the plums and spices into a wide mouth glass jar that has a tight fitting lid. Sprinkle the needed amount of sugar over the plums. Gently shake the contents of the jar to allow the sugar to settle down to the bottom and seal the jar.
Place the jar in an area where it will get as much sun as possible. Each day, gently shake or swirl the contents to help distribute sugar and liquid, but don’t worry too much about sugar that doesn’t dissolve right away. You don’t want the plums to turn to mush, so again, be gentle. Allow the jar to remain otherwise undisturbed as much as possible for the next forty days.
So now it’s time to decide how you want to use your summer sun elixer!
Option 1: Turning the plums into Greek “spoon sweets”. Remove the plums from the liquid and set aside. Measure the liquid and then put it into a pot. Cook the liquid down until it is reduced almost by half of what you measured before. Place the reserved plums into the thickened syrup and allow them to get heated through. Put the plums and syrup into clean jars. The liquid should be thick enough for the syrup and plums to be safe at room temperature, however they can also be stored in the refrigerator. Cold temperatures may cause sugar to crystallize, though. If you store your plum spoon sweet at room temperature, be mindful of any signs of spoilage!
Option 2: Making candied plums and spiced plum syrup for brandy, or whatever else you want! Remove the plums from the jar and place on trays for drying. If you have a dehydrator, set it on a low temperature and dry the plums just until they are firm, but not stiff. You could also just set them on a wire rack to dry someplace out of the way. I usually lightly cover them with either wax paper or parchment paper to keep them clean. Store them in an air tight container in a dark and cool location. They will last for a very long time and will be a perfect addition to the dessert table.
If you want to make the brandy, simply strain the syrup through a fine mesh sieve to remove any remnants of the plums and add the syrup to a decent brandy. You don’t want your finest stuff, but at the same time don’t go too cheap. I like mine on the sweeter side so I usually make a 60% brandy – 40% syrup solution (for example, 6 cups brandy and 4 cups syrup). You can use whatever balance you like and you can also add the leftover spices. Allow the mixture to blend for several days in a sealed jar kept in a cool and dark location, gently swirling every so often to ensure the contents are mixed. The liquid may be a little cloudy due to particles from the plums, but those can be strained out through a tightly woven muslin cloth, if desired. Moisten the cloth lightly first so that it doesn’t absorb as much of your brandy.
If you want plum syrup, just follow the same process as for making the spoon sweets, but leave the plums out at the end. This syrup is perfect for all the same things as any other syrup. It’s great for the typical waffles and pancakes, as well as drizzled over yogurt and ice cream, even to sweeten your iced tea! Enjoy!