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I know it’s been forever, and I will detail some of the reasons why at the end of this post.  Those reasons having come to a satisfactory conclusion about a month ago, I’d basically been dithering about for a few weeks, looking for the right theme and recipe for finally breaking the silence, and then the East Coast experienced an epically ridiculous confluence of events (an earthquake AND a hurricane in the same week?  Seriously, Universe? Seriously?) that presented me with the perfect solution.

I mean, once all the flashlight batteries have been replaced, the patio furniture has been brought inside, and the hatches have been battened as far down as they’re going to go, there’s really only one thing you can do, right?

Make jam.

Now, stay with me here: Jam is shelf-stable, so it doesn’t matter if the power goes out.  It uses up fruit that would just speed up its sitting-around-getting-squishy process without refrigeration. It goes excellently with all the classic natural disaster foods: ice cream that needs to be consumed immediately, peanut butter sandwiches eaten by candlelight, and, of course, French toast the next morning.  Not to mention, it keeps your mind off the impending doom, and gives you the sense that at least one thing is under your control despite the increasingly hysterical news coverage.

See?  It makes total sense.

Since plums were the fruit preparing to give up the ghost in my crisper, that’s the kind of jam I made.  Plums are an excellent jam candidate, since the skins are often too acidic and leathery while the interior flesh can be squishy in texture and unexciting in flavor.  Cook them down with a few spices, though, and they make really stunning amethyst-colored jam the likes of which you can’t find in a store for less than $8 a jar, so you shouldn’t actually need meteorological insanity to nudge you to try this recipe.

I also made a huge pot of black bean soup to pass the time waiting for the basement to flood, and I will write that up next. As for what’s been occupying me for the past six months and kept me off the blogosphere until Irene gave me the kick in the pants….

Well, just after the holidays I taught my first seminar, which was an amazingly rewarding experience but also one of the most intellectually and physically tiring things I’ve ever done.  NaNoWriMo is a walk in the park compared to that, let me tell you.  I don’t think I enjoyed a full night’s sleep until Easter, and I needed about a month to get my energy back afterward.

I didn’t get it, though, because — and this is of more pressing relevance to you all — at the same time, His Lordship and I were in the process of shopping for a house.  It was a confusing, stressful, nerve-wracking time, but we did finally end our long reign of renting at the beginning of the summer, and now have a proper Chez Disdain.  The new manse needs a fair amount of work, so I may well be grumbling about contractors and repair people for some time to come, but the one thing I can’t really complain about is the kitchen, which is fab.  I’ll provide more details and some pictures along with the black bean soup recipe, but for now, here’s just a wee bit of a tease:

Know what that is, my little chickadees?  Need a close-up (kindly overlooking the obvious need to clean, if you would)?

That’s right, a Viking range.  SCORE!

Oh, and in case it wasn’t self-evident from my reappearance, His Lordship, the Monster and I made it through the eye of the hurricane with minimal trauma; just a bit of basement flooding that was dispatched with a few rounds of wet/dry vacuuming and mopping. Now, on to the jam!

Hurricane Preparedness Plum Jam
Makes 3 cups

1 1/2 pounds plums, halved and pitted
Zest and juice of 2 clementines or 1 orange
2/3 cup water
1 vanilla bean, split
2 large slices candied ginger
1/2 small cinnamon stick
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
Juice of half a lemon

Place the plums in a heavy medium pan with the clementine zest and juice, water, vanilla, ginger and cinnamon stick and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Cover, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook until the plums are very soft and starting to break up, about 20 minutes.  Cool to room temperature.

While the plums are cooling, clean and sterilize about half a dozen 4-ounce jam jars with their rings and lids, along with any other equipment you feel you need for the preserving process (e.g. a ladle, a wide-mouthed funnel and long-handled tongs).

Remove the cinnamon stick, vanilla bean and ginger slices from the fruit.  Run the plums through a food mill or push it through a sieve into a large measuring cup.

Return the pureed plums to the pot, along with the sugar and lemon juice. Stir over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves, then increase the heat to medium to bring the jam to a boil.  Continue cooking at a low boil, stirring frequently, until it’s thickened and holds its shape when spooned onto a chilled plate, 20-25 minutes.

Transfer the jam into the prepared jars, then seal using the boiling water method.  Refrigerate any jars that don’t seal properly.

Notes:

I used about half a dozen varieties of plums from the farmers market in this batch: yellow-fleshed ones with mottled skins, giant plain red ones, purple ovoid Italian ones, and little unassuming ones with hearts the color of blood. Mixing your plums will give you a more complex and interesting jam, but any variety should be delicious.

This jam is tart and rich enough for savory applications too.  It made a lovely post-hurricane lunch with Manchego on whole wheat for me, and slow-cooked pork loin for His Lordship. I strongly suspect it’d also be smashing with turkey instead of or mixed into cranberry sauce in a couple of months, if you want to get a jump on your holiday prep.

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