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This is a tale about a little Satsuma Plum tree with a lot of moxie. Only two and a half years old, it’s already produced a significant amount of fruit over the last two summers. This year we harvested about 5kgs, so I made plum sauce, and there’s still 3kgs left over to stew and then freeze, perhaps for plum chutney when we get back from the beach.
We bought the tree on a whim, not long after we moved in to this house, during one of our many extended strolls around CERES Nursery. The whim was aided and abetted by son Max, who has a passion for red plums. So yes, we came home with a Satsuma Plum, which is one of the most popular cultivars in use today, and for good reason.
I chose the position for the tree on the basis that it would eventually provide shade from the western sun in summer for the vegetable beds. It is now fulfilling this role to some extent, even though it’s still so young.
Last year, after producing its spectacular blossom in early spring, 20 or so plums appeared. Now, although perceived wisdom says you should knock the fruit off for the first two years to enhance later productivity, I just couldn’t sacrifice 20 plums. So I left them there, and we ate them. This year, following another display of exquisite blossom (see feature image), and applying liberal swathes of petroleum jelly to the base, to prevent the onslaught of cherry slug, we ended up with a bumper crop. The branches were literally covered with plums and drooping with the weight. And although there is a bit of cherry slug, it’s nowhere near as bad as last year. This might be something to do with the climactic conditions (it was very humid last year); it also might mean that the lore passed on from my neighbour actually works. Next year I plan to reapply the jelly more often, right up until the leaves start appearing, to see if I can’t defy the dreaded slug once and for all.
Here’s the plum in October 2013, following the major landscaping described in The War On Grass. It’s looking very happy, mostly a result of the regular rain we had over winter and into spring, and from regular feeding with cow manure and liquid fertiliser, such as Seasol. I also pruned it slightly around June, to thin out the middle section and to allow the side branches to shoot. This year I’ll prune the tall tips just a little, again encouraging side branches to shoot, making it easier to both access the fruit and protect it from the birds via netting.
Speaking of birds, it was some lurking Lorikeets that inspired me to pick the plums a week or so ago. They were nearly ripe so I figured I could let them ripen inside, on a sunny windowsill, and I also wanted to make plum sauce before we headed to the beach for the annual camping trip. In the past I’d always made plum chutney or jam, so I wanted to spread my wings a bit, and who doesn’t love plum sauce?
The recipe comes from a little book I’ve been carrying around for about 26 years, which was given to me by a friend, and from which most of my preserve and chutney recipes have been drawn. Some I’ve added to or adapted, but generally, Margaret Fulton‘s Book of Preserves & Pickles is my bible. And Margaret Fulton herself is a national treasure. A testament to how important she is to Australia’s culinary history is the fact that people keep a tight hold on her books. The one cited above is part of an extensive series of recipe books from the 80s and 90s, which were designed to fit in your handbag, so you could take them with you when shopping for ingredients. While others in the series can be found in op shops or secondhand bookshops, Preserves & Pickles is very hard to come by. And that’s because, for a small book, it contains such a vast quantity of useful information and so many great recipes. So here’s Margaret’s Plum Sauce recipe, with a few tips added in that I’ve picked up over time. (By the way, I doubled the recipe.)
Margaret Fulton’s Plum Sauce Recipe
- 1kg bright red plums, stoned and chopped*
- 175g onions, finely sliced
- 2 fresh red chillies, seeded and chopped
- 1 tblspn salt
- 2.5 cups spiced vinegar**
- 1 teaspoon allspice berries
- 1 small piece root ginger, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- *As Satsuma Plums are cling stone, I cooked them in a cup or so of vinegar for about 20 minutes to loosen the stones, then fished the stones out by hand. You can then put a bit less vinegar in when making the sauce to compensate.
- **Spiced vinegar is Margaret’s recipe, and involves boiling up some vinegar with some pickling spices then straining it. I don’t bother with this; rather, I add some pickling spices to the allspice/ginger mix (see below).
Put the plums, onions, chillies and salt and half the vinegar into a pan. Place the allspice berries, ginger root and pickling spices onto a square of muslin, tie it up tightly into a bag and add to the pan. Simmer for 30 minutes until the fruit has softened and begun to break down (if you’ve pre-cooked the plums to remove the stones as above, this shouldn’t take long). Margaret says to remove the muslin bag at this point, but I don’t, as I reckon the longer the sauce cooks with the spices, the tastier it will be.
Sieve the sauce (or use a moulie if you have one) and return to the pan. (I neither sieved nor moulied, as the skins had broken down so much, they were barely evident.) Add the sugar, remaining vinegar and cinnamon, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer until thickened – about an hour – and then pour into hot sterilised bottles and seal. As mentioned above, I doubled the recipe, so I used 2kgs of plums and doubled everything else. This produced eight bottles, of mixed sizes. Margaret says the above recipe produces about 4 cups of sauce, so I guess I ended up with nearly 8 cups, but I never, ever keep track. What will be, will be! One hint – the longer you leave this in the bottle before eating, the better it will taste. That said, we couldn’t wait and used some of the sauce as a marinade for BBQ pork, with some lime juice and Tabasco, and it was delicious.