It is almost the end of summer, and if by any chance you happen to have a fruit tree in your backyard or in your garden, this is probably the exact and perfect moment to collect all of its ripe fruit. The memories from my youth regarding the wild plum trees that grow in my parents’ garden are unforgettable; no, I will never forget how much my father busted my balls every damn August to have me pick up all the fruit that I could. I had to collect plums from the ground, I had to shake the tree, and collect more plums from the ground, I had to climb the tree without braking any branches and fill several plastic grocery bags with ripe fruit. I would get sticky, sweaty, bored and pissed! Now that I think about it, moments like that helped me develop my cursing skills: left alone for hours at the time in the field, surrounded by flies and bees feasting on the juices, the dog jumping trying to grab my feet (or simply eat me off the tree), I would loudly express my deep disappointment for what I was convinced being nothing more that a variation of under-age-child-labor. Eventually, at the end of my rant, I would have picked a few tens of pounds of purple wild plums, I would have earned the despise of a few Saints, but also at least, I would have granted myself a somewhat unlimited number of plum-jam treats, from that moment until most likely the following summer.
Now, a few decades later, I regard those moments as very important lessons about life, nature and family… and cursing.
I cherish the memories of finally entering the kitchen with my load of fruit; my mother would be waiting for me with a nice snack, maybe some cookies and a glass of cold milk or some watermelon, the place would be clean like a surgery room, and a pile of gigantic pots would be sitting on the stove; time to wash and pit!
After a time out of a few minutes in fact, still with cookie crumbs stuck to my cheeks, I would step up onto my stool in front of the kitchen sink, my mom on the left so I could see her knife, the old Hitachi radio blabbing in the background (never, ever, ever put a TV in the kitchen!), and together we would wash and pit every single plum that deserved entering the pot. And for the next few hours, life would revolve around the kitchen, the pots boiling and bubbling on the stove would be the main feature of the whole house: everybody, sooner or later, would eventually make a few “passes”, spoon at hand, in front of the stove.
So, because tradition to me is very important, I felt entitled to enslave my kids for a few hours during our latest trip to Fiesole,
and have them collect as much fruit as they could. Debi and I then spent the rest of the day in the kitchen with my mom, for me to dust off my memories, and for the wife to get going with this very important yearly celebration.
Get your kids and go pick up some fruit, or take a stroll through your local farmer’s market, make a party out of it, and prepare for winter: a very few things can be better than a fresh jam tart, warm out of the oven, and your favorite pair of house socks in the cold months.
Wash and pit only the ripe fruit. Avoid using fruit that is not ready, as it will raise the acidity level of the jam. Eat the fruit that just calls for it... Nobody expects you to spend hours working without delighting yourself with some fresh, sweet bites. You also have a bottle of grappa at hand, be smart and make the best of it.
Start cooking the fruit on a medium heat, just for the juices to start spill out and the pieces to settle in the pot then, when it starts boiling add the sugar, lower the flame a bit and stir well. Make sure not to burn the fruit on the bottom of the pot, it will add an undesired bitter taste that might upset you.
Cook for about three hours (the timing largely depends on the kind of fruit), or until the desired thickness is reached. Jam should not be runny, and should not be thick, you can though exercise the right of choosing the way you like it (we cooked ours for over 4 hours). If you are worried about the sugar content, start with a smaller proportion, maybe 1 against 1 1/2, and if you'd like you can doctor the jam up while getting to the end of its cooking time.
When the jam is ready, let it sit for a while, let's say about 1 hour, stirring often to facilitate the cooling process, then start filling up the glass jars. Do not fill the jars to the top, since you will have to cover the jam with the grappa; not too much is necessary, but enough to cover completely the fruit and function as your preservative. Cover the mouth of the jar with Saran Wrap and tightly close the cap. Store in a cool, dark place like a basement or a wine cellar.
When ready to eat, just pop the cap and with a spoon, stir the grappa into the jam, this will help soften the fruit that might have been sitting still for a while. Well done, now go bake a tart, or just spread it on a slice of bread, or dilute in a non stick pan with some rum or cognac, reduce, and pour over some vanilla ice cream.
Debi and Gabriele