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davidson plum sauce

It has been a great year this year for Davidson plums.  We planted dozens of them as part of our riparian rainforest regen project from 2000 to 2003.   I don’t know whether it is just because they have now hit their stride, or if the unusually wet spring has something to do with it, but this year they have been laden.

There’s quite a lot of edible plants native to my part of the world but not so many of them that are abundant and really delicious.  The range that I look at from my bedroom window goes all the way up to the Bunya Mountains in Queensland along ridgelines. It was likely a route that Bundjalung people took to travel to festivals and feasts, and Bunya pines (Araucaria bidwillii) grow well here, so it is a bit strange that they don’t seem to have been naturalised. We have feasting quantities planted but you couldn’t really call them a native bush food.

But macadamias (Macadamia tetraphylla) and Davidson plums ( Davidsonia jerseyana) are endemic to right here, real bush foods.  We have re-established populations now that should reproduce on their own (climate change allowing) and provide foraging for generations to come. That’s a nice feeling.

The plums are sour, so sour that your eyes cross, but they cook up into the most glorious fruity and aromatic and tart jams and sauce and syrup.  They contain really high levels of anthocyanins, phytonutrients that are really strong antioxidants, and lutein which is one of the compounds that gives kale it’s reputation.  They are also a good source of a good range of minerals – potassium,  zinc,  magnesium, calcium, and of  vitamin E and folate.  All of which is probably necessary to counterbalance the amount of sugar they need to become delicious.

We’ve picked buckets, and there is probably one more pick still to go, distributing the seeds back down into the rainforest gullies.  Enough jam – we’ve eaten way more than we should, I’ve given it away, had people over for pancakes and plum jam breakfasts, even sent some to my son in Vanuatu – which was ridiculous in postage costs but so nice to be able to do – and I still have a year’s supply on the shelf.

This batch went into sauce.  Enough sauce. It is very very good – sweet/salty/sour/spicy with strong and complex flavours, a little goes a long way and I have bottles of it.

Then a batch into syrup for cordial and marinades and granola and over ice-cream.  Enough syrup.  I made it not overly sweet, to my own taste, but perhaps I should have made it sweeter and I’d have a chance of getting through it with a batch of kids at the beach.

For the next batch, I’m considering trying to make salted plums, like umeboshi plums or saladitos.  Anyone tried anything like that with Davidson plums?

The Recipe: Davidson Plum Sauce

This recipe makes about 1.2 kg, or litres of sauce. You can easily halve it if that’s too much.

You need a big non-reactive pot (stainless steel or enamel or pyrex).

Put a saucer in the fridge or freezer.

You need 5 cups of plum pulp.  I find it easiest to remove the two seeds by just squishing the ripe plums and feeling for them. Then blend or process the plums, skin and all, to your desired consistency.  I like it best when it is a bit chunky, not too smooth.

Put the pulp in the pot with:

  • 2 ½ cups brown sugar
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 3 star anise pods
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • a thumb of ginger grated fine
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic crushed
  • chillies chopped fine to taste.  I only have green Bishops Crown chilies ready yet, so I used half a dozen of them.

Cook at a gentle boil for around half an hour stirring occasionally.  Put a ladle in the pot so that it sterilizes too.  Test it every so often by putting a spoonful out onto the cold saucer.  It is ready when it reaches a nice syrupy consistency, still pourable but not liquid.

While it is boiling sterilize some jars or sauce bottles.  Depending on how narrow the neck of your sauce bottles is, you may need to sterilize a jug too.  You can sterilize easily in a pressure cooker for 5 minutes, or by boiling for 15 minutes, or in a slow oven for 20 minutes (but boil the lids separately or the plastic lining melts).  You can also use a dishwasher or a microwave so they say but I don’t have either of them.  You want to put the hot sauce into hot jars so time it so both are ready at once.

Ladle the hot sauce into the hot jars and put the lids on straight away.

It will keep like that for a long time, the sugar and vinegar preserving it, and it will be much too acidic for any food poisoning bacteria.  If you want to make a whole year’s supply, or if you are worried, you can go the extra step of boiling or pressure cooking the sealed jars (boil for 20 minutes, pressure cook for 10 in a pot with a tea towel in the bottom to stop the jars rattling).

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davidson plum jam on multigrain sourdough

My breakfast this morning – Davidson Plum jam on multigrain sourdough toast.  Mmmmm

Davidson plums (and kumquats) are just about the only fruit I turn into jam.  Mulberries, mangos, peaches, strawberries to my taste are better as not-jam – just very lightly stewed fruit without added sugar, for eating fresh, spread on toast or pancakes or scones.

But fresh Davidson plums are mouth puckeringly sour, and with a jam quantity of sugar they turn into something so memorably good that white-sugar-is-poison doesn’t apply.  They’re a rainforest understory plant native to my part of the world.  We’ve planted lots of them in the riparian regeneration project I’ve been working in for the last decade.  My reward is in – a walk through the rainforest and kilos of Davidson plums.

davidson plum tree

They make very easy and very superb jam – enough pectin to set reliably without anything added, just two largish easy to remove seeds, a full complex flavour that would be overelaborated by adding spices, and a gorgeous deep clear claret colour.

The Recipe:

  • Put some jars and their lids on to sterilize by pressure cooking for 5 minutes or boiling for 15. The sugar in jam preserves it from nasty bacteria but sterilizing the jars stops it going mouldy on top if stored for long.  Yes, well, maybe we don’t need to worry about that.
  • Put a flat plate in the fridge or freezer to cool.
  • Remove the two seeds in the fruit.  I find this easiest to do by just squishing them and feeling for the seeds. (If they are not ripe enough to squish, they aren’t ripe yet. They should be a deep purple colour and softish.)
  • Weigh them, and add an equal weight of white sugar.  There are not many situations where white sugar is called for, but that beautiful deep clear colour in the finished jam calls for it. The jam will work with raw sugar but it will lose that jewel brightness. Don’t skimp on the sugar – it’s not there just for sweetness. Reduce the sugar and you have to boil the jam long enough to reduce the fruit juice before it will set.
  • Add the juice and pulp (but not the seeds or skin) of half a lemon for each kilo of plums. The pulp has pectin that helps jam set.
  • You need a non-reactive pot – the plums are acidic enough to draw a metallic taste out of iron or aluminium. Use stainless steel, enamel, or pyrex.
  • Half way through the cooking, when the plums have softened, I use an eggbeater to break them up a bit.
  • Keep at a nice steady soft boil, stirring occasionally to stop it sticking, till it turns to jam.  How do you tell?  Take a teaspoonful out every so often and test it on the cold plate.  (Be careful not to take it too far or it turns to toffee – it stiffens up as it cools.) How long it will take to turn depends on the juiciness of the fruit and the pectin level.  This batch took about 20 minutes, but I have had it take up to an hour.
  • Put a ladle in the jam pot so that it is sterile too.  Carefully, carefully (hot jam is one of the worst kinds of burns) ladle the jam into hot jars.   Wipe the rim with a clean cloth or paper and put the lids on straight away.

davidson plum jam

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