For our wedding, it was very important to Chris and I that we make gifts for our guests from some sort of local Gabriola Island fruit. I had imagined blackberry jam, but the blackberries were not ripe the week before the wedding (when this gift making was supposed to happen). Luckily, my parents’ friend Keith is an expert on all foods that can be foraged in the wilds of Gabriola Island. I have written about Keith before. He is the one who served me quiche on his sailboat when I was seven years old. He knows where to find clams and oysters and he keeps these delicacies fresh by storing them in a bag off of his boat dock, where the ocean cleans them. Keith is an inspiring person. He knew where the blackberries would be ripe first so that we could at least find enough for our wedding cake recipe. He also knew about an orchard of wild plums near the beach.
I suppose that these plums technically feral, not wild, as it seems to be an orchard that someone planted on a long gone homestead. There are maybe a dozen trees of as many different varieties. Who ever planted them made sure to plant enough varieties that they would have different ones ripening from August well into the fall.
Like the blackberries, the plums had been delayed a bit by the wet summer, but we still managed to gather 25 pounds of ripe plums from 4 different varieties.
Our new plan was to make plum chutney for gifts and to serve with the Indian meal that we were serving as a welcome dinner the night before the wedding.
I often find plum chutney to be too vinegary and these old varieties of plums were small and very tart, so I knew that we would have to adapt whatever recipe we used. I found a recipe on line that looked promising to me. It called for star anise, clove, cinnamon, fresh ginger, mustard seeds and black pepper! My mum went to the local market to buy the spices, where she discovered that they did not carry star anise. Its a bit of a production to get to another market as you have to take a ferry to another island. Luckily, my mother mentioned that she had been unable to find the star anise to the lovely lady who was ringing her up. The check out lady said that she had some and would give it to my mother if she gave her a call after work. Welcome to very small island life! Also, my parents’ neighbors had bought us 100 small canning jars as a wedding gift and they also loaned us all of their big pots and canners.
Once we had gathered all of the ingredients and tools, my sister Silvi arrived to help out. We made a first batch and decided how we were going to adapt the recipe. We measured our plums and the number of jars that our first batch filled and realized that we only had half as many plums as we needed. My mother and I called the lady who sells plums from her orchard at the gabriola green market, and she said that we could come over and buy 25 pounds of her plums right then.
These plums were yellow and were much sweeter than the wild plums. We did not have enough star anise to make the orchard plums into chutney so we decided to make two different recipes; Wild Gabriola Plum Chutney and Gabriola Orchard Plum Marmalade.
Finally, Chris and Silvi and I hunkered down and used all four burners of my mother’s stove to make 50 jars of plum chutney and then 50 jars of plum marmelade. We stayed up until 4 in the morning! We were very pleased with the results. The chutney was delicious with the Indian meal. One one of the guests also poured it on top of the leftover salmon from the wedding bbq and baked it the day after the wedding and that was very, very good. I plan to make some more of it so that I can have it with duck and pork this winter! The marmalade was tart and yummy. We actually have a bit of it leftover which I have been using to make plum tarts and pan sauce for porkchops! Yum!
Here is the recipe for a much smaller quantity of plum chutney (4 cups). I believe that it would be delicious made with a sweeter variety of plum as well. Somehow our final huge batch lacked the full impact of the spices in the original batch, so we ended up adding a bunch of 5 spice powder to ours to pump it back up. 5 spice powder uses almost the same spices as this chutney…it just has a bit of fennel seed as well. The smell of this chutney cooking reminds me of something that our Estonian grandmother used to make at Christmas…. whole plums stewed in spices….
WILD GABRIOLA PLUM CHUTNEY
- 1 whole star anise
- 1 whole clove
- 1 two inch piece of cinnamon stick
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 cup sugar (we used demerera sugar but regular sugar would have been fine)
- 1 two inch piece of fresh ginger
- 1 Tablespoon whole mustard seeds
- 1 Teaspoon ground pepper
- 4 pounds of plums
- salt to taste
- five spice powder to taste
- Wash your plums.
- If you have freestone plums, score them in half in one direction and then again in the opposite direction. Twist one of the halves and the fruit will fall off of the pit. If you have clingstone plums, you will deal with the pits later.
- Grind the star anise, clove and cinnamon stick in to a fine powder in a spice mill or coffee grinder.
- Combine the ground spices, vinegar, sugar, ginger, mustard seeds and pepper in a large HEAVY BOTTOMED sauce pan. Stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and then bring it to a boil.
- Add the plums, reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally.
- If the pits are still in the plums keep an eye on them. There is a point where the flesh falls off of the pits and a pink foam forms on the top of the chutney (see the top left pot in the picture below). Use a slotted spoon to fish out all of the pits at this point. You should also skim the pink foam off and discard it pits or no pits.
- About 30 minute later your chutney should have darkened to a plum color and thickened up to a nice consistency (see top right pot in the picture above). This timing will vary depending on how juicy your plums are, and on how much natural pectin the variety that you are using has in its skins. Its this last stretch that really need to keep stirring it and scraping the bottom of the pan to make sure that it is not burning.
- When its thick, taste the chutney and adjust the seasoning with salt and, if needed, five spice powder.