Eating (fruit) paste

Posted by Cameron on 07.28.08 10:01 PM

alt=Sweet spirits of niter, did we get plums this year or what? Last year, our little whip of a tree served up a double dozen of the sweetest, tartest, juiciest globes that we could have ever hoped for. This year, that little whip filled out and buried us under an avalanche of purple fruit.

We saw Plumapalooza coming when we had to prop up one of the tree’s lower branches. The load of ripening plums bent it into a wicked arch, forcing the tip down so far that it touched the ground. However, it’s one thing to gaze admiringly at branchloads of red and purple glory. The reality of harvest is another thing entirely.

Toward the end of June, the very first volunteers hit the ground. Every day, we would gather the fallen and tug gently at likely followers still hanging on the branch. Five a day turned into ten and in a week’s time, we were gathering up between fifteen and twenty plums every morning and every night. By the time it was all over, we figured that we reaped 30-40 pounds of fruit.

Which naturally begged the question of precisely what the hell we were going to do with 40 pounds of plums. Finding a solution seemed especially pressing in the early stages of the deluge as we carefully picked yard bark out of drops and sorted the fruit into piles of Perfect, Not-so-perfect and We-love-you-anyway on the countertop. Ultimately, we knew that we would have to turn to preserves or some other solution that involved canning, but we weren’t ready to go there just yet.

As I stood in the kitchen one weekend, chain-eating plums and staring at the latest load, Anita reminded me that I had talked about making pâte de fruits before the plums started thumping down. Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that? I checked around and found a few recipes, most of which called for pectin, but Anita sussed out a recipe in the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market Cookbook that was nothing but plums, a little lemon juice, and a *lot* of sugar.

My first go at being a candy maker turned out pretty well, but there were some bumps along the road, mostly related to the fact that the recipe instructions about how long to cook the plum/sugar mixture before pouring it into a pan to set didn’t match up with my real-world experience: “Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the fruit reduces and thickens and begins to hold together as a mass, 20 to 30 minutes.”

Obvious, right? Easy? Not for this knucklehead. I stood in front of the stove stirring that pot nonstop for THREE FREAKING HOURS while the contents went from a thin purple soup to a bubbling syrup that I — exhausted and convinced that I had made a fatal error somewhere — finally abandoned to the tender mercies of the candy pan.

On behalf of my fellow kitchen idjits, let’s diagnose the sentence that was my nemesis. Cook over a low heat? My friends, it’s probably possible to boil a pot of coffee with a Bic lighter, but it’s going to take a long damn time, and when you’re trying to evaporate a quart or so of liquid, you need something a bit more brisk than low heat. Next time, I’ll be less tender with the flame during the early proceedings.

Second lesson: use a comfortable spoon. For reasons that are now unclear to me, I chose a metal spoon for my stirring utensil (Something to do with not staining the wooden spoons? Maybe? I don’t know. Leave me alone.). All I know is that after several hours of making like the witches in Macbeth, the unforgiving handle had given me a blister.

Last point: I don’t know about you, but when I think of something “holding together as a mass,” I expect to be able to haul out a serious hunk of glop when I raise up the spoon. Au contraire, mon frere. My pot full of plum sweetitude thickened to a syrupy consistency and then stopped. I kept at it, though, stirring away like Jamie Oliver on Quaaludes until I smelled the sugar caramelizing and thought to myself, “Self, if you keep going, you’re going to end up with plum-flavored Jolly Ranchers. If it ain’t done now, it ain’t gonna be done.”

It was done. After setting, cooling, cutting, and dusting with sugar, the final product was chewy, tart, and had the unmistakable twang of sugar that’s had a comfortable and extended acquaintance with the flame. It was good, and the piles of plum candy disappeared more quickly than I would have believed possible, especially when paired in gift bags with Anita’s homemade marshmallows.

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

Plum Candy
- adapted from the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market Cookbook

4 pounds plums, pitted and chopped
2 T water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
About 4 cups sugar

In a large, heavy enameled cast-iron or other nonreactive pot, combine the plums, water, and lemon juice. Place over low heat and cook until the fruit is very soft, about 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat. Puree the plum mixture by forcing it through a fine-mesh sieve or food mill fitted with a fine screen held over a bowl. Measure the puree, return it to the pan, and stir in an equal amount of sugar. Cook over low heat (ha!), stirring constantly (ow!), until the fruit reduces and thickens and begins to hold together as a mass, 20 to 30 minutes (bullshit. see above.).

Line a 9-by-12 inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment (the original recipe says plastic wrap, but I was afraid that it would melt) overlapping the edges. Pour the plum paste onto the lined pan and spread into an even sheet with a rubber spatula. Let cool, cover, and allow to stand at room temperature for 48 hours. The paste will become firm.

Invert the pan onto a cutting board, peel off the parchment, and cut the paste into about 36 small squares. Arrange in layers on waxed paper and store in an airtight plastic container at room temperature.

dessert, garden, locavore, preserving & infusing, recipes



Comment by Lucy

A tantalizing solution. Such gorgeous images too. Thank you Anita!

Posted on 07.29.08 at 1:40AM

Comment by Anita

Thanks, Lucy. I shot the photos, but Cameron made the candy (and the post). :)

Posted on 07.29.08 at 1:15PM

Comment by cookiecrumb

Oh, golly.
I was thinking of doing a candy blog post today, but it wasn’t candy I’d made myself, so I’m leaving the spotlight on you.
What a great read. What a great adventure.
Thanks for the inspiration, Cam. I’m actually emboldened to try a “membrillo” with my pears now.
I love eating paste.

Posted on 07.29.08 at 2:29PM

Comment by [eatingclub] vancouver || js

Mmmmmmm. . .I think I’m going to be very popular with my nephew and niece once I make this. In fact, with the adults too. Thanks!

Posted on 07.29.08 at 11:45PM

Comment by Jen

Love this idea, we made loads of yellow plum/vanilla jam…wish I thought of this!

Posted on 07.31.08 at 11:37AM

Comment by Julie

Awesome! I’ve always shied away from pâte de fruits recipes calling for pectin. I wonder if and how well this recipe would use with other kinds of fruit.

Also, I’ve been the victim of the slow reduction, too, so I truly, truly feel for you. I’m glad you kept at it, though! These look wonderful!

Posted on 07.31.08 at 2:18PM

Comment by kel

its very common here in Australia, to be served a paste like this without the dusting of sugar, as a slab aongside cheese on a fruit platter. Yum.

Posted on 08.01.08 at 12:41AM

Comment by E for KC

Goodness this sounds like fun! A question: how long do the candies stay fresh? Also-just discovered your blog and have fallen in love. I can’t wait to read the archives.

Posted on 08.01.08 at 6:02AM

Comment by Caryn

So, when does your sister get to share in the windfall? ;) I’m droolin’ ova heah!

Posted on 08.05.08 at 1:01PM

Comment by Darryl

Ugh, those “cooking over a low heat” provisos always strike me as shifty. I’ve made lemon curd and custard, melted chocolate, and done a million other stovetop activities that explicitly call for a low flame at a much more satisfactory medium one, without any disasters. As long as you keep a careful eye on your pot and never stop stirring (in the case of custards and such), you shouldn’t have a problem. That said, I’ve never attempted to make candy. I probably would have taken the same tack you did, and ended up as tearfully impatient later.

Posted on 08.10.08 at 11:23AM

Comment by alexandra

mmmm, they look wonderful!
do you think the candies would come together with the addition of alcohol? alcohol is tricky business.

Posted on 08.11.08 at 8:37PM

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[...] In Houston it seems like the fruit trees, azaeleas, and vegetables have been blooming their hearts out for weeks now.  Our peaches and apples set fruit in the latter part of February, after putting on quite the floral show.  We had almost 100% of our seeds germinate and our tomatoes already have blooms popping out.  So what the heck is wrong with the Black Mission Fig and especially, the Santa Rosa Plum?  If there was one tree in all of our garden that we were looking forward to, it was the Santa Rosa Plum.  After this and this appeared, I felt like we had no choice but to buy one.  Here we are now in the advent of Spring and it seems like nothing can coax this guy out of hibernation—at least not any blossoms.  Yesterday though, I did notice a tiny hint of green. Signs of Life-Santa Rosa Plum [...]

Posted on 03.08.09 at 7:23PM

Comment by Bryan

interesting to see a recipe without pectin.
i’m curious to know if the original recipe gave any temperature guide to take the mixture to? softball stage? firmball?
yes, cooking till it “reduces and thickens” is a little vague.

Posted on 06.07.09 at 4:29PM

Comment by Anita

Bryan — nope, the recipe we used (and published) is pretty much verbatim from the book, with the addition of Cameron’s commentary. Vague, indeed — as Cameron pointed out in the post.

Posted on 06.08.09 at 8:09AM

Comment by Eleanor

Before dad demolished the plum tree, we always ended up making jam.

The first time I thought that 1/4c of water wasn’t enough so I added more. Guess who ended up with plum sauce rather then jam?!

You have inspired me to try this now. If only plums were in season! Stupid winter fruit…

Posted on 06.25.09 at 9:17PM

Comment by jo davidson

I am in the middle of making paste from semi wild bullace plums that grow widely in Anglesey(North wales). These are small and one step up from a sloe and have a strong tart flavour. Our trees are breaking under the weight of the crop so I have a lot of fruit to play with. I made lots of damson cheese and have poured some of this into trays instead of jars, however this does not correspond with the setting stage recommended in my recipe which says you should cut through the jam with a wooden spoon and see the bottom of the pan before the jam closes over. As I have an aga I have put the trays in the bottom oven for 12 hours before cooling and cutting.

Posted on 08.23.09 at 4:58AM

Comment by Elena

i have a couple of questions to this recipe :what does it meaning- 2 T of water
and may substitute plums to another fruits and add frozen raspberry?

Posted on 09.28.09 at 12:25AM

Comment by Cameron


2 T means two tablespoons. I wish that I could help you on fruit substitutions, but as I’ve only tried this once, I’m probably not the best one to be giving advice!

Posted on 10.07.09 at 9:39AM

Comment by julibelle

Two words for fruit pastes: SLOW COOKER.
I start mine on the stove, when it gets pretty well cooked and beginning to reduce, I switch it to the slow cooker, then stir it every 1/2 hour or so.
Thanks for the no pectin method too..

Posted on 10.08.09 at 11:19AM

Comment by JohnMich

Thanks for the slow cooker idea Julibelle it works very well inded and saves a lot of stirring. I’ve now used it on quince paste and spiced pear paste with no problems at all. I find once the spoon leaves a clear trail when deragged across the bottom of the crock pot the job is done.

Drying by putting the panned paste in the oven with heat off and fan going (defrost mode) works excellently

Regards, John

Posted on 05.06.10 at 5:08PM

Comment by Deanne C.

I am SO excited to try this…gonna give a “go” with my bushels of tangerines that go to waste on our backyard tree…and HUGE THANKS to julibelle & JohnMich for the slow cooker tip!! (I was dreading the backache from standing at my stove for 4 hours!)

Thanks for the creative adventure “read”, Cameron! You are a HOOT!!

With Sweet Dreams of Pate de Fruit!

Posted on 04.13.12 at 9:05AM

Comment by Nina

I, too tried that SF Ferry Market “Plum Candy” recipe with four pounds of fresh picked plums from my island home in WA… and just like you I was completely unsuccessful and started frantically searching all over the web to figure out what went wrong. I laughed my candied-ass off reading your post. I spent three days trying to get the darn plums to turn into anything remotely resembling jelly- including running the mixture though my food dehydrator over night. Then I had the “a-ha” moment… or more of an “oh-no” moment. It turns out that all plums have natural pectin EXCEPT Italian plums.

We have Italian plums. Would have been nice if they said something about that. Oh well. Live and learn! I’m going to recook the stuff and add some gelatin to hope to save it. Then I’m going to go out and buy pectin.

Posted on 09.24.12 at 1:16PM

Comment by Jodes

Just tried a small batch of blackberries, boiled the bejeezus out of them, added equal sugar to fruit ratio- worked like a charm! thanks so much for this recipe as it is something to do with the over abundance of berries I have in the freezer… Will try saskatoon berries next and will keep ya’ll posted!

Posted on 10.15.12 at 10:50AM

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