lekvar: roasted prune plum paste

IMG_8718Forgive me, I wish I had eaten the prune plums, but I had to make lekvar (prune paste) instead.  Lekvar is easy but takes a long time.  If you start with actual dried prunes, it’s much faster, but I was gifted 25 pounds or so windfall fruit from the Friendly Fruit Tree Project to process, so the first step was roasting the fruit to remove liquid and concentrate the sugars.

IMG_8701Once the fruit had been picked over, cleaned, and roasted overnight, I squeezed out the pits and cooked down the puree even longer.  Once it had significantly reduced in size, I milled out the skins and remaining stems, even catching a few errant pits.

IMG_8755If you can, mill on a coarse screen and a fine screen for a silky texture.

Then I added sugar at a 1.5:1 ratio, a cup of sugar for every 1 and a half cups of puree.  This yields a product that isn’t very sweet, but still provides a jam-like feel. And added the juice of a lemon to acidify the mix.  Some people add lemon or orange zest at this point.

IMG_8767I cooked the lekvar down for several more hours, carefully monitoring the bottom of the pan, which is very susceptible to burning.  The stuff thickened and reduced by about a third before I decided it was ready.  And then voilà!  Dark, mysterious prune plum paste for fall.  It can be stored in the refrigerator or frozen, as it’s a bit too thick to be processed safely.

IMG_8732One can use lekvar in so many wonderful ways: to stuff dumplings, fill cookies and Hamantaschen, spread on cheese or cheese crackers, or this, a wondrous creation from the Friuli region of Italy, inspired by Fred Plotkin’s recipe in La Terra Fortunata: The Splendid Food and Wine of Friuli-Venezia Guilia, Italy’s Great Undiscovered Region.  Sguazeto sauce is used on roasted pork, but it makes a nice sticky barbecue sauce, too, for pork chops or a small shoulder roast.  It usually starts with prunes, but prune paste works like a dream.

Sguazeto for Roasted Pork

    • 2 heaping teaspoons pine nuts
    • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
    • 1 teaspoon honey
    • 2 tablespoons. olive oil
    • 1/4 cup lekvar (or, if you don’t have lekvar, substitute 3 Brooks prunes, chopped and plumped up with some wine for 30 minutes, then mashed)
    • 2 tablespoons chicken stock
    • 1 tablespoon. white wine vinegar

Roast the pine nuts and cumin seeds on a medium-high burner until fragrant.  Combine the pine nuts and cumin in a mortar and pound with a pestle until you have a fine paste, then mix with honey and olive oil. Heat mixture with lekvar, chicken stock, and vinegar and simmer for 10 minutes or so until flavors combine.

Roast or grill your meat as desired, dressed simply with salt and pepper. Remove from grill and top with sguazeto just prior to serving, or brush some on in the last 15 minutes of cooking. Garnish with chopped parsley and few whole pinenuts.




silky wild plum jam

IMG_3945Well, the bright side is that I keep getting tiny signs from the universe that there’s a branch over my head just laden with juicy, impossibly blueberry bloomy blue fruit, ripe for the plucking.  It’s just a matter of timing and overcoming myopia and finding a stable ladder. I’m trying, and so far I’ve been pelted on the head a few dozen times and threatened by an overhanging spider and infested with earwigs and ants enjoying their lunch.  I’m pretty sure something dropped down into my bra and bit me where the sun don’t shine.  But always a little fear in pleasure, in possibility.

So. Jam. To measure the sugar you need and get a sense of the yield, you’ll need to imagine how the plums will reduce to a purée once cooked. I filled a standard colander with 5 and a half pounds of small plums, and used 4 cups of sugar in a single 5-quart pot. It yielded 7 half-pints. Your needs will vary.

This jam is all about found fruit, especially the ornamental “cherry plums,” the golfball-sized drupes that cover those pesky feral plum trees that spring up all over the place, including your yard. I had a yellow one in Berkeley, cut down a red one in my yard in Eugene, understood when the neighbors cut down the burgundy-foliaged one in their yard.  It also works for Damsons or Santa Rosas or any juicy, smallish fruit fresh from the orchard.  The recipe is adapted from Linda Ziedrich‘s damson plum recipe, in fact.  I kept the flavor simple, as it really can’t be improved.  You might add a slug of slivovitz at the end, or perhaps a tiny bit of clove.

You won’t be cooking this one terribly long, a blessing in the heat. Plums have plenty of pectin; that’s the silky texture. Wild plums have clingstone pits, so plan on cooking them in and straining them out later.

Silky Wild Plum Jam

I like what plum skins do to jam, coloring and flavoring it, but if you strain them out with a food mill, the jam will be a wonderful soft, clean, pure texture — perfect on skin, as a friend says.

  • Small cherry plums
  • Sugar (3/4 cup per cup of plum purée)

Rinse ripe plums just after picking, and place in covered pot with a bit of water (no more than a half cup).  Simmer for about 10 minutes until the skins burst, then uncover and stir, pressing the flesh down with a spatula or spoon. Simmer for another 10 minutes until plums have fallen apart.  Pits may or may not rise to the surface.  You will be lucky if they do.

Remove from heat and let cool enough to handle.  Skim, strain, and squeeze the pulp from the skin and pits.  You might try a mesh colander or a food mill.  This process may be difficult and messy, as some plums won’t yield up their pits easily, so you may find even a food mill ineffective.  If worse comes to worse, don a pair of food service gloves and pluck the pits out with your fingers, squeezing them to get all flesh off.

Once you have a pot full of delicious pulp, measure it.  For each cup of pulp, add 3/4 cups of sugar and begin the jam process.

Wash your jars, rings, and lids, and heat the lids according to the package instructions as you’re heating up the waterbath canner.

Cook jam down over medium high heat until it thickens and passes a gel test (perhaps 15 minutes?), stirring very frequently and scraping the bottom of the pot.

Remove from heat and let sit for a couple minutes.  Skim foam from top. Spoon the hot jam into jars carefully to reduce bubbles, leaving 1/4-inch head space.  Wipe rims of jars and adjust lids and rings.  Process in a waterbath canner for 10 minutes.

salted plum caramel sauce

A happy accident.  I bought some overripe greengage plums, and slightly overdid it with the vanilla bean powder while preparing the overnight sugar soak.  Add in not having enough time to make the jam so they sat longer than overnight, and you’ve got a very sugared, very vanilla plummy mass ready to go.  It’s a wonderful caramel sauce if you don’t boil it long enough to jell, and vegan to boot, since there’s no butter or cream in the caramel.  It’s slightly grainy if you press down on the plums while food-milling, but thick and sweet and slightly salty and delicious.  You can fruitfully use any dense plum and overripe ones would work best.  Try it with prune-plums, especially our fleshy Brooks plums. Worried about safe canning?  This recipe is based on a greengage jam recipe developed by Linda Ziedrich, so it’s good to go.

Salted Plum Caramel Sauce

Makes 5-6 half-pints.

  • 5 lbs. dense, late-season plums (e.g., greengages, damsons, prune-plums)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 6 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla bean powder or 1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt

Pit and quarter plums.  Toss with lemon juice, sugar, and vanilla, and let sit 12-24 hours in the refrigerator.  Bring to a rapid boil, add sea salt.  When foam subsides and the sauce starts to turn caramel-colored and thicken (I’ll leave it up to you to decide how thick, but don’t cook so long it reaches the gel point of 220 degrees), remove from heat and let the sauce cool.

Using a food mill, separate the flesh from the skins.  If you want perfectly smooth sauce, don’t press too hard on the solids, and mill twice, once with a coarse disk, once with a fine disk.  I just milled once and pressed, so the sauce is slightly grainy.  I think it maintains the notion of the plum that way.

Can the sauce by bringing it to a boil again and letting it boil for 5 minutes.  Spoon into sterilized half-pint jars, wipe rims, adjust rings and lids, and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.  Serve on crêpes, warmed and tossed in a “salad” of cubes of sharp cheddar and apple with walnuts, hot over ice cream, or atop an apple cake.

slivovitz time

This is going to be one of many drive-by posts this month.  Octobers are always the cruelest month, forget April.  After seeing Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s slivovitz recipe in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago, I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist. 

Slivovitz is the elixir of Eastern Europe.  It’s usually a clear, distilled liquor made from the prune-plum that are flooding our Willamette Valley markets right now, but her version is more of a liqueur: sweet, soft, and plummy with just a bit of spice.  Who cares about authenticity — it sounds marvelous. So I made some and I put up a quick batch of prune-plum jam flavored with Hungarian Zwack herbal liqueur with the rest of the plums. 

It’s a great year for these dark, dense plums.  Try our local variety, ‘Brooks,’ which is sweeter and has more flesh than the Italian ‘Fellenbergs’. 

I also found some greengage plums at the market this weekend, but they were overripe, so won’t be exactly the flavor I was looking for.  Nevertheless, they turned into a perfectly decent greengage-vanilla jam that tastes like the most delightful vegan caramel (with a little salt on top for good measure).

sugar plum jelly with victorian spices

Now that I’ve overseen my second annual “Holiday Gifts in a Jar” class for the Master Food Preservers, I’m in jar gift mode, and I thought I’d share the bounty of my research with you.  Once a week, from now until New Year’s Day, I’ll be posting a recipe or link to something unusual and creative I’ve found that can be jarred up and offered to your loved ones as delicious holiday gifts.

The class was a great deal of fun.  We offered two sections, an afternoon and an evening, and had a range of demonstrations and hands-on workshops, including some crucial tips for decorating jars and baskets.  There was a canning overview and workshop making (low) sugar plum jelly, a comparative analysis of chutneys and conserves, and creating layering of white powders for baking mixes in their regular and gluten-free forms.

The big hit of the entire shebang was Katya Davis’ homemade vanilla extract.  Who knew it was so easy?  She demo’d the process of slicing the vanilla beans and preparing them for their bath in spirits, and even gave out samples of vanilla sugar and apple pie/pumpkin pie spice mixes to include in a baking gift basket.  I think I’ll be showing up at her door on Christmas morning with my stocking…

We also discussed safely making flavored oils (sun-dried tomato) and vinegars, and the class took home jars of blackberry and herb vinegar made with the remains of my 2009 herb garden and frozen chesterberries.  There was a demonstration of making cranberry mustard from scratch by our local mustard experts, Jan Hurlow and Suzi Busler.  I spent some time discussing local products that are particularly notable, and how to find them.  Cindy Ambrose backed me up in the evening class by demonstrating how to make hazelnut brittle in the microwave.

If you’re interested in making sugar plum jam, we have a few 1-Q jars of juice made from donated plums from King Estates winery left over from the class.  We’re selling them at $2 a jar, a fantastic price for a high-quality, pure, unsweetened jar of juice.  The quart holds slightly less than 4 cups of juice, which would work well for the following recipe that was featured in the class.

(Low) Sugarplum Jelly

This jelly spread was adapted from my recipe for cider jelly.  It uses spices that are traditional in making Victorian sugar plums.  Makes 4 half-pints of low-sugar jelly using Pomona pectin.*  Perfect for Christmas morning on cinnamon raisin bread, or mixed in with ricotta for a crepe filling.

➢    4 t. calcium water (in Pomona pectin box*)
➢    4 t. natural pectin (in Pomona pectin box*)
➢    1 quart (4 cups) plum juice, either canned or freshly made in steam juicer
➢    Spice mix: one stick cinnamon, zest from one orange, big pinch of whole allspice, pinch whole cloves, pinch whole coriander, pinch cocoa nibs (optional)
➢    1 cup sugar
➢    1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
➢    4 t. (divided into four) apricot liqueur (optional)

Macerate the spices in the juice at least several hours before canning.  Measure out your juice and place in a jar or bowl that can be covered.  Add cinnamon stick.  Place the other spices in a little cheesecloth square that can be tied shut with string, then add to the juice. Refrigerate overnight, if possible.

Before beginning your jelly, wash your jars and sterilize them by boiling them in your canner for 5 minutes.  Wash your new lids and your rings.  Keep the lids and rings in water at a simmer (180 degrees), don’t boil them, in a small pot on the stove.  Filter out the spices from your juice and pour into a medium-sized pot.

To make jelly, follow the instructions on the bottom of the Pomona instruction sheet. These are, basically, as follows:

Add calcium water and lemon juice to juice in the medium pot on high heat.  As juice is being brought to a rapid boil, mix together the pectin and the sugar in a small bowl.

When the juice comes to a boil, add in the sugar/pectin mix, stirring constantly for one minute, to melt the pectin.  If you don’t stir constantly, it will lump.  Remove from heat.

Skim foam that rises to the surface of the juice, if any.

Fill hot jars, leaving a quarter-inch headspace, and add 1 t. per jar of the optional apricot liqueur.

Wipe rims, cover with lids and rings, and process for five minutes in a boiling water canner.

* If you live in Eugene, you can find Pomona pectin at Sundance, Market of Choice, and Down to Earth throughout the year.  Do not substitute Pomona pectin for another brand of pectin, as they all process differently.

two plum jams: elephant heart and fellenberg


Plum is one of those words I like to say over and over.  If we can (if!) disregard the sticky, musky juiciness for a moment, the word itself is full of goodness.  That initial ‘pl’ always brings good things to the party: play, plink, plenty, pleather, plots, plaster, plans, plugs, plants.  The ‘uh’ sound is always pleasing, like a caveman grunt, and the ‘um’ brings forth ‘yum’ and ‘om.’  Yes, plums are for meditating.

Plum and prune are related not only by desiccation, but etymologically, as well.  Both words come from Old English plume, which comes from Latin prunum and Greek proumnon. Ls and Rs, Ms and Ns slip all over the place across languages.  And we must not forget two homonyms, plumb and aplomb…also erstwhile words unrelated to plum.  Both come from roots in the Latin for weight, and a host of meanings associate with being in line, straight, and true.  By all accounts, plum is a word worth saying.

Plums can do more for one’s mouth than just sound good on the tongue.  I had never much paid attention to the so-called Italian prune plum until I saw it here in the Willamette Valley, and wondered why they used both the terms prune and plum.  “Aren’t prunes just the dried form of plums?” thought I.  Growing up in the Midwest, plums were plums and prunes were prunes.


But no!  Prune plums are completely different from plum plums.  The honey-sweet, dense flesh of a prune plum is much better for drying than the rounder, plumper plum we usually eat out of hand.

I did some experiments this year with plum jam.  See my victims, above.  The prune plums are to the right, a Fellenberg (Italian) on the top row and a Brooks on the bottom row.  The bright red plum is an Elephant Heart, and the dark one on the left is a Pure Heart, a variety I’m guessing is related.

Elephant Heart plums are featured on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste, a program that catalogues rare and unusual foods grown/produced in America.  (As usual with the most widely known, East Coast-based food media, the list is very east-heavy.  Only one Oregon product: a pollinator cherry called “Black Republican” that doesn’t even taste that good.  Bah.  Add some!  I will as soon as I have time.)  Anyway, they have some revealing pictures of the plums wearing their white bloom.


Elephant Heart plums are also called “blood plums,” according to the Ark of Taste.  My picture above, while neither as gorgeous nor as blood red as the Ark of Taste image, shows some of the veins.  More nice shots of prune plums, and recipes, are featured here and here.  Too bad they won’t be around for Halloween!

I made jam with these beauties, trying to keep them as fresh-tasting as possible, with only the natural pectin in the fruit and peel, and a few leaves of rose geranium thrown in for good measure.  The result is a deep red, plummy, soft preserve, with pieces of the fruit still intact.  I can’t wait to serve it with pork, cut with a berry vinegar perhaps, or mixed with some sauteed onion and a little whole-grain mustard.


The “Italian prune,” also called a Fellenberg, is actually a German prune plum.  The name in German, Zwetchen, or quetsche in French, has none of the charm of the word ‘plum,’ alas.   Regardless, they grow remarkably well in home orchards and in local commercial farms in the Willamette Valley.   Anthony Boutard relates a historical anecdote that provides the definitive commentary on this matter:

Col. Henry Dosch, of Hillsdale, Oregon, was a tireless proponent of the Oregon Fellenberg Prune.  The late 1800s and early 1900s was the era of the great expositions and world fairs, and Dosch urged fellow prune growers to use these venues to promote the prune in the world.  He felt confident that consumers would soon [see] the difference between “the evaporated Oregon prune and the sun-dried insipid California prunes.”  Oregon prune growers never did bother to promote the fruit, selling them instead to the California fruit cooperatives, where stripped of their identity, they wound up as prune juice.  The prune orchards of Oregon are pretty much a thing of the past.

I became particularly interested in the Fellenberg this year because of the particularly bountiful harvest.  Our native Brooks plum (developed around 1930 in Lafayette, OR), shown to the left in the picture below, is a larger, paler, meatier, more picturesque form of the Fellenberg prune plum (on the right).


Many people dry and sauce the Brooks plum, but I have to say that I prefer the Fellenberg for its apricot-orange-colored flesh, its sweetness and more complex taste.  Needless to say, both are a superior product over the ubiquitous dried California prune.

Christine Ferber’s jam recipes in Mes Confitures feature the best produce of Alsace, including the quetsche plum.  One recipe, considered so emblematic of the region it is called “L’Alsacienne,” blends the plum with local pinot noir wine.  Are you seeing where I’m going with this?

I present to you “L’Eugenienne,” my Fellenberg prune plum and Willamette Valley pinot noir jam!


Yes, it’s mostly gone.  Because…yum!  I used plums from Thistledown farm in Junction City and Broadley pinot noir.   Ferber’s recipes are not safe for long-term storage, so I had to modify the processing instructions, but I did sugar the plum pieces overnight, and cook down the jam for quite a long time.  A few moments of inattention created a bit of char on the bottom of the pot.  It added a slight, autumnal bitterness to the dark, rich, pruney jam.

I think plum season is just about wrapped up, but if you do see some fresh Fellenberg prune plums (remembering they’ll be labeled as Italian prunes), check ’em out.  They’re worth it!