What kinds of images come to our head when we think of this country?
I think of a rugged and harsh terrain, war torn tribes, poor, hungry orphans, people missing limbs from landmine accidents, foreign army presence, a complete dearth of peace, prosperity and rule of law.
And yet my earliest impression or recollection when I think of Afghanistan couldn’t be further from the situation there today.
I remember when I was reading Rudyard Kipling’s Kim; it had such a beautiful and vivid description of the orchards of Afghanistan. Set in the 1880’s, I remember from the description that the air was so heavy with the sweet fragrance of ripe fruit, that you could almost taste it when you breathed.
I could absolutely relate to that description, because not only did I grow up hearing about how the best fruit came from Afghanistan, but I have also enjoyed eating it for most of my life, as it is widely imported to Pakistan. The plums, the apples, the pomegranates- I can just imagine when it was booming and blooming with fields and orchards. Believe it or not, but Kabul used to be the Paris of South Asia. It was a very popular honeymoon and vacation spot, especially for those living in KPK, formerly NWFP. So modern, so hip and happening, with the theaters playing all the latest Bollywood movies! It’s quite sad that the quest for power and dominance has turned its gardens to a shambles.
Anyone from the subcontinent will tell you that fruits and vegetables in America just don’t have the fragrance or flavor that they do there. The produce here is very nice to look at, but falls short in taste. Maybe it’s just something that God blessed the earth of the sub continent with.
My aunt was visiting Pakistan some 10 odd years ago, and in the middle of the hot afternoon, we stopped at a fruit stall to buy some plums. And the plums looked so plump and ripe and bursting with flavor, that without washing them, without even waiting to get into the car, both she and I took one and bit right into them! And the way it just dissolved in our hands, filling our mouths with soft, sweet and very juicy pulp, remains to date one of our favorite memories!
Summer fruits in Pakistan were heaven! And then there was the summer when my mother learnt to make plum jam from a friend.
Words cannot describe what that jam was like. The deep, color, the fragrance and the rich, ripe intensity of flavor! It was our absolute favorite with bread/parathas, and I clearly remember snacking on (self made) jam and malai sandwiches all day long.
That was exactly 21 years ago, and that memory was revived when I happened to come across The Patterned Plate’s Raspberry Jam Post. And what a beautiful post it was! My mind was flooded with the recollection of the easy, happy, fun times of a carefree childhood, summers spent with family; siblings and cousins, playing, playing, playing, eating, playing, talking, walking, eating, playing…
And I wanted that jam.
Generally speaking, I would say that even the ripest and sweetest plums in America cannot come close to the taste and texture of those in Pakistan. But 2 years ago, in the month of Ramadan, I was pulled towards a display of plums at the grocery store, by fragrance alone. They were selling very ripe plums at a discount price, and I bought a large bag. I was hosting an iftari and my mother (who was visiting from Pakistan) had insisted that we serve a fresh fruit drink, so I thought she would be happy too. The scent was great, and we added sugar to make up for what was lacking in taste and we ended up with a nice, refreshing drink.
Coming back to the jam post, after reading it, I remembered those ripe plums and I thought we have to make that jam when my mother comes!!! So, I saved the post and waited.
Ok, I have bashed American fruit a lot, but that’s all I have access to, and I’m thankful for it. So, when my mother came, I got a ton of the ripe plums and gave them to her. Now, she had a simple recipe, and I have to say that things like pectin and jam sugar scare me. A lot. So, we decided to stick to her 2 ingredient recipe, requiring only fruit and sugar.
The first whiff of that jam took me back to the summer of ’92, and days and nights spent in our air conditioned lounge, completely oblivious to any complexities in life. Today, I can also fully appreciate the utter joy of lining the floor with beds from one end of the room to the other and the whole family crashing there for the night.
In trying to recreate those feelings, I have bought a number of plum jams over the years here in the US. From good old Smuckers to a very expensive imported Plum Jam, which was so devoid of flavor that it was like eating something with your nose plugged. No taste. And how can plum jam be this color, anyway?
Now, I just want to clarify a couple of things:
Sure, I keep saying that the fruit isn’t the same, but trust me when I say that the jam really is spectacular! Why? Because it is home made and is packed with 100% fruit!!! There is absolutely no comparison between home made and store bought jam. Even if you are a person who hates jam and never buys or eats it, you will love home made jam!
We had it for sehri with parathas every single day last Ramadan, and my husband kept saying that the jam was the only reason he ate anything at all at that hour. [See my Golden Parathas Post.]
Secondly, isn’t the thought of making jam or canning a little intimidating? But really, don’t let that scare you away! There are only a few steps to the recipe, and at the most, you will get the hang of it in one or two tries. For this reason, don’t make your first batch with a bushel of plums! Start small.
It is so worth it!
It’s great with so many things! Scones, parathas, malai, peanut butter, waffles, pancakes, jam thumbprint cookies, jam tarts like the Queen of Hearts or just with plain old bread and butter.
For canning, I would suggest getting a set of small jars, so that you can distribute them among family and friends. A perfect gift for the hostess; they’ll love it!
This makes a soft set jam, just the way I like it!
Plum Jam Recipe
- 8 ripe black plums (1½ lbs)
- 2½ cups sugar (Caution! The amount of sugar varies greatly according to the ripeness/sweetness of the fruit. Add a little bit at a time and adjust to your taste.)
- ¼ cup water
- Canning supplies: jars, lids, rings, funnel, tongs for lifting jar, a large stock pot
Sterilize all your canning jars, rings and lids according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You can do this in the sterilize cycle in your dishwasher, or insert them in boiling water for 5 minutes and then keep them in the dishwasher on the heated dry cycle until ready to use. The jars should be completely dry and warm for use. You can also keep them in the oven on a cookie sheet lined with a clean dish towel on the warm setting.
Also sterilize your funnel in boiling water and dry completely. Once the jam is ready it should not come into contact with hands/anything that has not been sterilized to prevent it from spoiling.
Wash the plums. Cut them in half and remove the seeds.
Put in a pot with the water. Cover and cook on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes.
Take the plums out and remove the skins.
Cut the plums into small pieces. Return to the pot on medium low heat and add the sugar. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved.
After the sugar has dissolved, bring the jam to a bubbling boil. Cook, stirring constantly until the jam reaches 220 degrees F, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat immediately.
[Note: After some experience, now I admit I don’t do the jam test or test with the thermometer. I find it tiresome and I think that the degree can vary with the quantity of jam that you’re making. Now, I just cook the jam until it turns from syrup into a gel like form.]
Another test is to put a saucer in the freezer when you start making the jam. To test if the jam is done, put a blob of the jam on the cold saucer. After 30 seconds, it should form wrinkles when you run your finger through it, or roll slowly around when you tilt the saucer. If it is too runny, then it is not done. Honestly, this test is too time consuming.
Using the funnel, pour into the jars, hold down the lid with one finger and close the rings until finger tight. If you close them too tight, the escaping steam will break the seals. This is where the British method of canning ends.
According to the American method, you then immerse the jars into a stock pot filled with boiling water using tongs or a basket (available for this purpose). Boil for 5 minutes and then take them out.
I prefer the British method as it is easier! But, it’s up to you. But if you’re using the American method, then you can also invert the jars and only immerse the lids in boiling water. It’s up to you.
This jam is not over sweet because I like to be able to get a hint of the tartness of the fruit as well. That’s just how I like it. Otherwise, one wouldn’t be able to tell what kind of jam it is.
The biggest problem with making jam is over cooking it. Once you’ve overcooked it, that’s it. It’s gone. The only thing you can do after wiping your tears is throw it in the trash. The taste and texture changes completely.
The only way to avoid this is to use all your senses and pay close attention. Is it getting too dark? Take a whiff. When anything is done, it will tell you by the way that it smells. When it is cooked, it will smell fruity, appetizing and sweet. Then it will start to caramelize. You will smell it caramelizing. It’s already too late. Then the sickly sweet smell that comes just before the burnt smell. The texture will become hard and gummy when it cools.
For this reason, it is better to err on the side of under done than over done. At worst, it will be a little soft. You will most probably be spreading it on something anyway.
I think we made about 2½ 16 oz jars with this recipe. Can’t wait for the plums this year!!!
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