Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sugar-Free Plum Butter

Plum Tree at our Community Garden

 It's early July, and plums are dropping like sticky rain all over Berkeley. From the tiny maroon fruits that blend into the leaves on the street trees, to the teeny bright red ones landing in the back yards, the full-sized purple and deep red ones, everyone with a plum tree has more than they can possibly manage.

Our neighbors Lisa and Brooks put out the call: come pick some plums - please! Naturally I hustled right on over, not having any idea what kind of plums were on offer. If they were large, I was thinking of galette or German pflaumenkuchen, if small, plum butter.  When I arrived, I found tiny ruby fruits covering a gigantic tree in their back yard, plonking all over the patio and grass, squishing under foot. Plum butter, here we come!  Good thing I bought some more canning jars.....

When the fruits are small, there is no need to do anything to them but rinse and drain them, sort out any rotten ones, and put them on the stove to cook with a little lemon juice and some calcium water.  You can filter out the pits and skins later using a food mill. If you don't have a food mill (I don't) a colander and a big pestle, wooden spoon or muddling stick will do just fine.

There are several flavor directions you can go in with plums to enhance their flavor; this recipe uses vanilla, which rounds out the flavor beautifully. I have also seen recipes calling for a piece of cinnamon stick instead, which sounds very good.  I wonder about star anise......

This recipe is completely, utterly delicious. I wonder if Lisa and Brooks have some more plums to spare....

Sugar-Free Plum Butter

6 pounds plums
2 vanilla beans, split OR 2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup lemon juice (I used Meyer variety)
4 TB calcium water
2 TB low-sugar pectin

2 3/4 cups erythritol
1 1/3 cups + 2 TB xylitol
1 tsp stevia extract powder
1 tsp unsalted butter

If the jars are brand new, wash them and the rings and lids to remove any chemicals left from processing. If they have been sitting in the basement, check them for dust, and wash off any you find. Put the jars and rings into a very large stockpot or canning pot and fill with hot water to cover by an inch or two. Put them on the rear burner of the stove over high heat and bring them to a boil. When they come to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer and keep them hot and ready.

Following the instructions in your low sugar pectin kit, make calcium water. (I use Pomona brand.)

Prepare the fruit: wash and dry the plums. If large, cut in quarters and remove the pits. If small, put the whole fruits in an 8 quart, heavy stock pot, along with the calcium water and the lemon juice. If using vanilla beans, cut them in half lengthwise and add them to the pot. Put it on the stove and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is completely softened, to the point of puree.

While the fruit cooks, measure the sweeteners into a medium-sized bowl.  Add the pectin to the sweeteners and whisk them all well to combine.

My antique pestle works great!
When the fruit is ready, turn off the heat and put the whole mixture into a food mill or colander placed over a large bowl or another stock pot.  If using the colander, use a large pestle, muddler, or wooden spoon to force the plum flesh through the holes and leave behind the skin and pits and vanilla beans. Be as thorough as possible, and be sure to scrape off the exterior of the mill or colander to get all the good flesh that is left on it.

Here it is after removing the pits and skin.

Put the filtered puree back in the stock pot and bring it back to a full, rolling boil over medium-high heat.  When it is ready, get a long-handled wooden spoon ready, and gradually add the sweetener mix to the hot fruit, stirring constantly as you pour in the sweeteners. Stir well and frequently to dissolve the pectin and the sweeteners with the fruit and to prevent lumping. Add the vanilla extract and the butter. (The butter is optional, but keeps the foam in check.) Bring it back to a full boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Taste and adjust sweetness as necessary.  Turn off the heat.  Get ready to can. (Don't worry if it isn't as thick as jam; it thickens as it cools.)

Clear a good sized work surface near the stove, and cover it with clean dishtowels (preferably ones you don't care about!)

Turn the heat off under the pot of jars and move it to the front of the stove so you can reach them easily, and move the jam to the back of the stove so you don't get water into it by accident. (Put the lid on the pot of jam if necessary.) Using tongs or a jar lifter in your dominant hand, and a clean dishtowel in your other hand, carefully remove the lids and rings and drain them on the towels on your work surface. Lift each jar out of the hot water, dump the hot water back into the pot, and carefully guide and transport the hot jar over to the work table, using the towel in your non-dominant hand to support the jars until you get it safely to its destination. Turn it upside down to drain out the extra water. Repeat until all of the jars are drained and ready. Scald your best ladle and wide-mouthed funnel in the boiling water and have them ready with your jars.

Turn the heat back on medium high underneath the pot of water and bring it back to a full boil while you jar the jam.

Now, again using your tongs (or a clean towel, oven mitts, or tough hands!) turn the jars right side up, and line them up to be ready to fill. If you have a wide-mouthed jar funnel (which I so highly recommend - available at any good hardware store, Bed Bath and Beyond, well stocked grocery stores, etc., for less than $5) put it on top of one of the jars.

Grab your best ladle, and bring the pot of hot jam over to your work surface. Carefully fill each jar, leaving 1/4" of space at the top. If you have a wide-mouthed funnel, the bottom should come to just the right spot. If you don't, do your best! If necessary, spoon some out to reach the right level. After you have filled all your jars, use a clean, moist towel to wipe the ring area and the top surface of the jars clean. Again, if you have a wide-mouthed funnel, you are much less likely to spill the jam onto the jars and need to clean them. If you have less than a full jar of jam, put that one straight into use and don't bother to can it.

Put the lids on, followed by the screw tops, and screw them down.

When the water bath comes back to a full boil, reduce the heat to low, and again using your tongs, carefully lower the jars back in one at a time. (The shock of the boiling water can break the jar, which is a big messy bummer.) Boil them all for 10 full minutes, then remove them with your tongs, using the same tong/towel technique described above, and let them cool on the toweled work area. If necessary, work in batches.

Notes from Christine:

* Why the range of xylitol quantities?  The fruit varies widely in how sweet it is; if you have sweet fruit, use the lower amount, if tart, use the higher. You can always start with the smaller amount and add more if it needs it, but you can't subtract it once it's in!

"What's with all of these obscure sweeteners?" Erythritol and Xylitol are sugar alcohols; super low-glycemic, super low-calorie, super low-carbohydrate, and good for your teeth.  

Xylitol is low in carbohydrates and is about as sweet as cane sugar.  It has a fairly neutral flavor, but a little bright, almost pepperminty quality. It can be found easily at a well-stocked health food store or really good grocery store.

Erythritol has 0 carbohydrates and is very neutral in flavor - yay! But it is about 60% as sweet as sugar and is very difficult to find in stores, except in individual packets. As it is 60% as sweet as sugar, it takes quite a bit more to reach the right level of sweetness in a recipe, and this makes proportions difficult.  However, its very neutral profile - and 0 carbs! make it a natural for blending with xylitol and stevia, especially since stevia is so highly concentrated.  It's worth tracking it down by mail-order, or you could make a special request to a grocer to order some for you.

Stevia is a natural, calorie-free leaf extract, super concentrated and very sweet, but with a weird, bitter aftertaste and no volume; due to its highly concentrated state, one teeny-tiny scoopful (which comes in its container) is equal to a teaspoon of sugar. It is easily purchased at Trader Joe's or any grocery store.

Be aware that some Xylitol and Erythritol brands in American packaging are actually imported from China and repackaged. That is why I buy all of these directly from Xylitol USA, http://www.xylitolusa.com/ which manufactures them from North American sources.