Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Plums, fruit leather, and plum wine

One of the things that we have done well here in our new California location on the grounds of a private boarding school, is use the entire campus as our backyard homestead.  We regularly harvest walnuts from the trees in the Learning Strategies quad in upper campus.  We thank the middle schoolers for their labor every time we harvest cherry tomatoes from their plots near the tennis courts.  But our favorite Dunn School harvest is when the Middle School plum tree begins to produce in late July.  Oh what a bounty!  This tree is no more than 15 feet tall and about 20 around.  You can access all the plums with the use of a two step house ladder.  Yet this little guy produces.  We did two major harvests on that tree this year and we came home with approximately 60 pounds of fruit.  Not bad for a couple of hours of work with the boys.

With that quantity of fruit, we tried a bunch of stuff...

1. Juicing - wouldn't recommend it.  Juicing wastes a ton of fruit pulp and produces very little juice.  The juice was fantastic and the pulp we feed to the chickens, which eventually feeds our compost in the form of chicken poop, so I guess it isn't completely wasted.  But all the leftovers rubbed me the wrong way.
2.  Freezing - Easy and smart.  Quarter and freeze, couldn't be easier.  We use our frozen plums as ingredients in fruit smoothies.  We eat fruit smoothies twice daily in the summer and these plums were a great addition.
3.  Canning - We canned some plum sauce last year.  I love canning and do it often, but lately I have soured on it to some extent.  It uses a lot of energy, and heats up the house during the hottest time of the year.  I am also discovering better ways to preserve.  One of these new methods is fruit leather...

Fruit Leather

Let me start by saying, if you have not made fruit leather before you need to stop reading right now and go do it!  It was perhaps the most satisfying preserving experiment that we have ever tried.  First and foremost - it was pretty easy.  Second - it used a ton of product.  Finally - it was delicious!  Here is the process...

1.  wash, pit plums.  This is the most time consuming part and is typically the first step of preserving no matter what method you are trying.  My trick is to pick a large knife and roll the plum under the blade in one direction and then in the opposite direction.  That quickly quarters the plum and allows for pretty easy pit extraction.  Even my 8 year old son can use this technique with much success.
2. Toss them in the blender (skins and all).  We processed our plums in small 3 cup batches.  Add approximately 1 tblspoon of sugar to the blender and press start.
3.  The result is a reasonably thick fruit mash.  Pour this mash onto a sheet of parchment paper, which is supported by a large cookie sheet.  Spread it evenly over the sheet.  When I was done spreading, I would estimate that my mash was approximately 1/4 inch thick on the sheet.
3 cups plums and 1 tablespoon sugar
4.  We are blessed with some serious sun here in the central coast of California, so we have the luxury of sun drying our leather.  We laid our cookie sheets onto the black floor of our south west facing deck, and the result was a drying temperature of 110 degrees Fahrenheit.  Most of the leather dried in one day - approx 6 hours on the deck.  A couple sheets we needed to finish a little in the oven or on the deck the next day.
5.  That was about it.  All you do to finish up is roll the parchment like a burrito and cut it with scissors into little kid-sized strips.  Everybody in the family loves it.  It disappears magically in about 3 days.  It is healthy and fun.

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