I was debating to call this a recipe as I didn’t weigh the fruit or the sugar. This was all done by eye, and only made 1 and a bit jars. But whilst we head into British plum season (and all their glorious hedgerow relatives beloved of countryside cooks for generations – sloes, damsons, bullaces), it seemed appropriate to at least honour a British native fruit that is available free of charge – I have foraged for these small tart fruits in the countryside before, but suburban Cambridge is full of them. So all I had to do was walk up the high street with an empty Hovis wrapper (an ideal small bag, don’t judge me).
Cherry plums are a small dark red to black plum, (yellow/green when unripe) bigger than the bullace and about the same size as a damson. They are often planted as ornamental trees because some varieties have beautiful dark purple leaves. Often ignored due to many not realising they are edible, and most sadly end up squashed into pavements during July and August, it’s a real shame as these fruit for free have many uses and whilst they are nothing to write home about fresh off the tree, they have a myriad of other uses – as this Guardian article goes into.
However, after finding out a brilliant partner to them is lemon thyme via an episode of The Food Programme, and it of course being slap-bang in the middle of the season, I picked the plums for this jam from a tree near a primary school on my street, and they grow abundantly in large bunches. I came home with 2lbs worth (I was out for about 10 minutes if that) and sadly when i got round to using them 2 days later (a few were still half-yellow at the time of scrumping) a large amount had rotted – you should use foraged fruit quickly! – but I had enough to make jam without turning the house into a cannery.
I’ve done cherry plum crumble before, used them in a chutney and in jams as they are, but this time I fancied adding extra flavours. I’d forgotten to buy lemon thyme, but I found another good partner to the plum is star anise. Taking this on board, I sprinkled in some Chinese 5 spice, of which star anise is the main event player. The added salt within the blend helped to add complexity – it was a tiny amount, just enough to give it a hint without shouting over the flavours of the fruit.
Sorry there’s no specific amounts, it was a freeform affair, and I only had 2 clean, empty jars to hand! However much you make is up to you – plums contain pectin so no need to add apples or lemon.
You should make this even without the spice if I’m honest – these plums are everywhere right now, and they cost nothing to get whilst even the British plums currently on the supermarket shelves are somewhat overpriced. You may even have a tree in your garden or on your street. Plus, the jam is a beautiful, startling scarlet from the skins, and you can control the sweetness. The traditional ratio is equal weights fruit to sugar, but I think you can get away with a little less if you want more tartness. You will need enough to help preserve and set the jam though. So I recommend doing it by eye.
Cherry Plum & 5 Spice Jam
Chinese 5 Spice to taste
- Place plums whole into a large pan with a small amount of water to prevent them from catching. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat and cover.
- Simmer with a lid until the fruit completely breaks down.
- Now the not so fun part – use a slotted spoon or tongs to fish out the stones. You can halve and stone them before if you have more patience than me, but generally these are a clingstone fruit and you’ll end up losing half the flesh before you begin!
- Once all the stones are out, snow over the sugar (ideally the same weight as your plums but you can use slightly less if you don’t want it too sweet – I did it purely by eye and it set) and stir to help dissolve. Sprinkle over the five spice powder (to taste, but go easy if you can!), and crank the heat to high. Bring to a rollicking boil and do so for 5 or so minutes until jam is set.
- To test the set, place a clean saucer in the freezer for a minute or 2 to chill then spoon a tiny bit of the jam onto it. If it wrinkles when you put your thumb through it and doesn’t run back together, it’s done.
- Pour/spoon into clean, sterilised (washed in hot soapy water and kept warm in a 120 degree C oven, or put through 1 dishwasher cycle) glass jars are and screw on lids. Label and let cool!