Illegally Delicious Plum Preserves Infused with Tonka Bean

plums in paper bag

I was raving about plums almost exactly a year ago and guess what, I’m still a huge fan of this slightly overlooked stone fruit. Since they are in season, you can get them on the cheap now and that’s exactly what I did.

The result: a new addition to my rapidly expanding jam collection. This time, it’s a thick plum preserve with no added sugar and an extra layer of flavor thanks to shavings of a firm, dark brown and somewhat wrinkly seed resembling a woody raisin: the tonka bean.

I haven’t even heard about this spice until my mother-in-law gave me a few pieces recently. Have you? This is what I’ve found out since:

This haute cuisine ingredient is actually the seed of the cumaru or kumaru tree, a plant native to Central America and Northern South America.

tonka beans

Tonka beans have been banned by the FDA for sale in the U.S. as a food item because they contain coumarin, a chemical that is believed to cause liver problems. In extreme concentrations, that is: at least 30 entire tonka beans would need to be eaten to approach levels reported as toxic, when a single bean is enough to flavor 50 servings of food.

Coumarin has since been found to occur naturally in cinnamon, lavender, licorice and other commonly eaten plants too by the way, which are, to my knowledge, still freely available. Seems to me as a rather overreaching ban, no?

“Dreaded” coumarin is responsible for the seed’s unique, complex and very pleasant odor coveted by the perfume industry for centuries: a rich, heady, fruity aroma somewhat similar to vanilla. Just the twist my humble plums needed! Lucky it’s legal here.

I wanted this jam to be not sweet. I’d like to try it with meat (duck and game come to mind instantly) and use it in desserts that call for some tartness. When you don’t add sugar, you need to increase the cooking time a great deal to ensure your jam won’t spoil. And that’s where a crock pot comes into play: the low and slow temps and the nonstick pan allows you not to stand next to the batch all day.

It’s hard to tell the exact time it takes for the plums to break down completely and thicken, but be advised it’s not a quick process. I turned the slow cooker on early on a Saturday morning, and it was already getting dark outside when I sealed the jars. It’s time intensive, but not labour intensive in return.

The washed, pitted and halved plums go in, the machine is set on low with the lid on. Every now and then you check on it to make sure it’s simmering slowly and not catching. As the preserve starts to thicken, you need to stir more frequently. Approaching the end of cooking time, grate a tonka bean with a microplane, as you would with nutmeg, to infuse the jam with the exotic notes. After preserves reach desired consistency, transfer to sterile jars and seal.

Love,

Fruzsi

Plums in paper bag hoto by Katrín Björk

Tonka beans photo by Rebecka G. Sendroiu

Festive Plum Preserves

festive plum preserves title

Plums are in season in the late summer and early autumn weeks. Right now that is, and I think they are unfairly underrated. This fruit is not getting the recognition it deserves, and that needs to change!

An incredibly nutritional powerhouse, plums are rich in fibers and antioxidants, high in potassium that helps control blood pressure, fortified with vitamins A, B and C, and have a low glycemic index to help control blood sugar.

Brought to Europe by Roman legions from Asia-Minor, this undemanding plant is grown throughout Hungary. And yet, all we seem to be making from it nowadays is szilvapálinka (seel-vah-pal-in-kah, a strong fruit spirit) whereas not so long ago, thousands of cauldrons were bubbling with another traditional plum product this time of the year.

The almost black, very thick plum jam distinct of this region was made with no added sugar on an open fire for 10-20 hours, requiring constant attention and quite the physique to stir. Of course, very few people want to make such labour-intensive things lately, but back in the day especially in poor rural territories you could not possibly let any food go to waste.

The original, hand-made variety is not easy to come by. However if you stumble across it – let it be a farmer’s market or a distant slightly masochist kinswoman – make sure to put your hands on a jar or two! It’s cooked for so long and to such a thick consistency that the jam keeps for years even without high vacuum (used to be stored in clay jugs simply covered with paper).

I am lucky to have folks living in the countryside who provide us with such traditional goodies every now and then, so I get to be the modernist when it comes to preserves. I don’t think it’s cheating to use a slow cooker instead of wood and matches, and I’m not willing to process truckloads of produce either, but rather mix different fruits and play with spices. Although my jam making is still in its infancy, the latest batch I cooked up is something I need to tell you guys about.

festive plum preserves prepared fruit

Bought really beautiful plums for such a sweet price last week that I decided to try a knockoff version of the spicy plum jam that was given to us by my soon-to-be mother-in-law last year. Although I did not have the recipe, I’d say the concept is heavily borrowed from her (credit where credit is due). And.just.wow.

Everyone knows cinnamon and plums are BFFs, but this jam is in a whole different league. Ginger-effing-bread spice! That’s right. The house smelled like Christmas on an August afternoon while I was making it, hence the adverb festive. My long time fav is Kotányi’s spice mix – good news that they went international so you can probably buy it locally. Or you can always mix your own.

festive plum preserves seasoned

This preserve was ready in a fraction of the time required for the old-fashioned variety (sugar and some natural preservative needs to be added in return). I’d love to tell you an exact time, but it depends… so I just say this: look for the jellying point to determine when your preserves are done.

festive plum preserves cooking

You can use a food thermometer (105 °C or 220 °F is the number you’re looking for), or do this simple test: if syrup forms two drops that flow together and a sheet hangs off the edge of your spoon, it will set nicely.

festive plum preserves on bread

I’ll give you the recipe for 1 kg/2.2 lbs fruit (net weight), feel free to multiply.

Festive Plum Preserves

Ingredients

1 kg plums, washed, pitted, halved (or quartered if they are big)

30 dkg sugar

1 tbsp gingerbread spice

1 tbsp citric acid

Directions

  1. Put plums, sugar, citric acid and spice mix in slow cooker, set machine on medium. Fruit will start releasing juices.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce to slow setting and simmer, scraping bottom occasionally to avoid sticking.
  3. When preserves reach jellying point, turn slow cooker off and transfer preserves to jars.
  4. Clean rims, adjust lids, and process in a water bath for 15 min.
  5. Let jars cool to room temperature, label and date.

Do you like plums? Is it a common fruit where you’re from? How do you eat them where you live?

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use the products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders. What I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship or gifts.*