Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cherry Plum Picking and Homemade Jam

Cherry season was a couple months ago but the supposed cherry tree in our front yard seemed to be in no hurry to produce ripe cherries.  Back in July while other folks were talking of their bountiful cherry harvests in other areas, I was looking at mostly yellow (and VERY tart) fruit.

They gradually darkened over time and now with the sudden drop in temperature I found myself in a hurry to pick every fruit off the tree before the first frost (which has been known to come this early).

I still hadn't been able to figure out what kind of tree this is. It sure LOOKED like a cherry tree, but here it was, mid-September, and most of the berries had still not developed a deep red color. They were also WAY too sour for a Rainier cherry tree (and I was hoping they would ripen and sweeten with time).

Here are my observations:
  1. Blooms in March, harvest in September.
  2. The fruit looked like cherries.
  3. The flesh is yellow and most are still pretty firm.
  4. The stems are short and don't usually come off with the fruit. If I shake a branch hard enough, the fruit rains down on us and we can just go around and pick them up.
  5. The tree leaves are tiny compared to cherry trees.
  6. The tree is very hardy and grows profusely, even with the extreme heat, cold and drought that we have had here in Colorado.
  7. The branches are VERY twiggy making it difficult to climb up for the higher fruit.

The Girl could eat them fresh but The Boy and I shivered from tasting the sourness.  Still, we gathered them up. Better to make something from them than let the fruit rot on the ground and create a mess in the yard. I was able to fill up this container in about 15 minutes.

Something needed to be done with all these berries!  They were turned into just over 2 quarts of pie filling (8 cups pitted fruit, 3 cups granulated sugar and 1/2 cup cornstarch). I originally used 2 cups of sugar but the resulting pie filling was still much too tart so the additional 1 cup of sugar was gradually added. There were 2 cups of pitted fruit left over that I froze for later use.

Although these are in jars, they're stored in the refrigerator for  a cobbler in the near future.
Once the "Pickles" got home from school, they headed outside to pick more fruit.

Of course, seeing 2 children and their crazy mother outside on step stools and a ladder picking some unknown fruit from a tree got some attention in the neighborhood. While Aurora is not exactly big city living, it is still very urban compared to our last home in the woods.

After some discussions with neighbors (including some who mentioned the fruit's strange similarty to plums) I searched again on Google. Instead of looking for cherry tree varieties, I searched for "looks like cherries tastes like plums". They did have a distinct plum scent when you stuck your nose deep into the bowl.

It looks like the mystery tree in the front yard is a Cherry Plum Tree. In fact, once I started looking up more information on the cherry plum, I started finding LOTS of photos similar to mine.

Cherry Plums could be sweet. They could be sour. They could be yellow. They could be red. They could be purple.  The tree leaves could be green or purple. The blossoms could be white or pink. No wonder I had such a time identifying this tree!

Finally figuring out what the fruit was made me really excited about picking more! We wound up filling up our original container again PLUS a huge colander - about 2 1/2 gallons worth!

Then I found a super-easy 2-ingredient recipe for Cherry Plum Jam at California Monkey Momma. The instructions didn't call for de-stoning the fruit. They would be strained out later. That was a big plus. I didn't feel like spending another afternoon removing seeds.

I've never made jam or jelly or preserves before. Even so, I was determined to use this fruit. I strayed away from the recipe a bit, straining out the seeds and skins before adding the sugar. The first batch I made yielded 3 cups of juice & pulp. I wound up adding 3 cups of sugar to get a sweet/tart flavor. Once it boiled down, I wound up with just over 4 cups of jam.

This jam would look great in canning jars!  But it went into freezer containers instead.

Even though I've had a lesson in canning food, I don't have the supplies I need to do it properly. That will have to wait. Maybe I'll be ready when the apple tree across the street is harvested...

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