Friday, September 10, 2021


One of the many parts of cooking that fascinated me growing up was the humble canning. It was mesmerising to see how the long and slow simmer changed the texture and volume of fresh fruit, sometimes patiently and gently stirred, and sometimes not disturbed at all. To observe the entirety of the cooking process, the fruit becoming translucent and glistening, was, as it still is, an absolute delight.
And one of the things I have always loved more than any other type of preserves is the whole fruit conserve. It is the perfect preserve, with humble, everyday ingredients that yields a wonderful treat with endless ways of serving it.
Granted, it is not the quickest preserve to make, but it is undeniably worth every moment spent preparing the fruit. Peeling the plums allows the fruit to be cooked to perfection, and later on absorb just the right amount of syrup. The skins can be somewhat chewy, even after cooking, so removing them beforehand is what I prefer doing for this type of conserve. You can blanch them briefly, and submerge them into ice water immediately after, or patiently peel each one, if you are like me, and enjoy the preparation process.
Choose plums that are firmer, perhaps not overly ripe, even, as they hold their shape much better. And because there is no stirring, they will remain almost intact. Some will break down during the cooking, especially around the edges, but the majority will still be in one piece. The larger pieces are fantastic to be enjoyed on their own, and the ones that do break down are simply wonderful on toast, pancakes, or oatmeal.
Keep in mind that the cooked conserve will not have the consistency of a common jam. When completely cool, it will have the thickness of honey, with gorgeous translucent damsons suspended in it. Absolutely delightful with a cup of strong coffee.

1 kilogram firm damsons, skins and stones removed
1 kilogram granulated sugar
½ vanilla bean
30 millilitres fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon fresh lemon zest
½ teaspoon fresh orange zest, optional

Wash the damsons, peel them, and remove any imperfections that may affect the shelf life of the conserve. Tear each of them in half, remove the stones, and place them in a large, non-reactive pot. Take a wide, heavy-bottomed pot, and pour in the cold water. Add in the sugar, and place the pot over high heat. Bring it to a boil, and cook, without stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until thickened to a consistency of honey.
Drain the damsons well, and add them to the sugar syrup very carefully. Add in the scraped seeds form a vanilla bean, add in the vanilla bean itself, and shake the pot well. Gently stir the fruit to distribute it, but not after this point in cooking. However, do remove any foam that comes to the top while it is cooking.
Reduce the heat to medium high, and shake the pot from time to time, letting the fruit level itself in the sugar syrup. Because there is only a kilogram of fruit, the cooking process is quick. After about 30 minutes of bubbling, the conserve syrup should be thick, and the fruit somewhat softer. Add in the lemon juice, lemon zest, and orange zest, if using, and cook for 5 more minutes.
Check for setting point either with a thermometer (105°C), or by using the saucer test. Place a few drops of the syrup on a chilled saucer, and if they stay in place, if they are not runny, it is done. Once the conserve is setting and ready, remove the pot from the heat, and let it cool down for about 10 minutes. Carefully remove the vanilla bean, and pour the hot conserve into a prepared, sterilised jar, seal it, and let it cool down to room temperature. Keep refrigerated. Yields 750 grams of conserve.