I have been swimming in plums recently. My friend Sarah’s tree started dropping ripe plums right before she went on vacation, so Sam and I went over and helped her clear out the branches. We were allowed to keep whatever we picked; within a few minutes we’d collected a paper grocery bag full of tiny red-fleshed fruit. The past couple weeks have been all about putting them to use.
A fair number of the plums got eaten straight from the bag, standing over the sink to catch the juices. I set a few aside for a cooking experiment I’ll write about later; a few more went into a riff on my favorite nectarine tart (verdict: plums need way more sugar than nectarines). That left me with about two pounds of quickly softening plums, a small canning pot, and–thanks to the BART shutdown–a lazy work-from-home afternoon. So I ignored the heat outside, turned on the oven, and made plum butter.
Fruit butters are a slightly different animal than jam–pureed smooth, softer and less jelly-like than jam, made for spreading rather than dolloping. Think applesauce, but richer, darker, thicker, in every way more so. The recipe I found calls for roasting, rather than boiling, the fruit; after an overnight soak in sugar and spices, the plums went into a heavy pot and then into the oven, where they slumped and wrinkled and filled my little apartment with hot syrupy perfume. From there, it was just a matter of pureeing the fruit to baby-food smoothness, and ladling it into hot prepared jars for the water bath.
In the jars, the plum butter is inky purple-black, the color of the blended-in skins; when I scraped up the dregs from the pot onto a spoon, it glowed translucent red. The flavor is concentrated plum, sweet from the flesh and tart from the skins, brightened with orange zest and prickly with cinnamon and cloves. I will be spreading it on popovers the first chance I get; I could easily imagine filling a cake or topping a scone with it, and even possibly using it as a sweet plum sauce on poultry. Well done, little plums. Well done.