As the little people played with their train sets, I sat beside them and de-stoned plums. As they watched Old Jack’s Boat, I watched and de-stoned plums. As they splashed and played at bathtime, I sat on the bathroom floor, and de-stoned plums. Once they were filled with stories and fast asleep in bed, the lovely Sharon and I cooked up some jam and mashed up a must for plum wine. In total we used up twelve kilograms of plums that night, and we were weary. All because grandparents, cousins, a sister and brother called to the cottage on Sunday and the lovely Sharon decided to put them to work picking plums. Step ladders were propped up the sides of trees and baskets and colanders were filled. At one point I thought I was clever and I climbed up into the branches of the oldest plum tree. I heaved and contorted myself into position only to find that I was still far from the high harvest and had only five more plums to show for my efforts. Those five plums will taste the best. Once the unplanned harvest was over I was glad I had made a cake that morning. We filled our cups with coffee and tea and devoured the cake; spiced plum cake of course.
Making jam and wine seems to be all about killing and sterility. Boil away the water, sterilise the jars. Pour the thick hot mixture into jars and seal them with burning hands. Then pray they set, take the calculated chance. Plum jam is familiar territory, however the plum wine; there be dragons. Our research tells us that plum wine can be difficult. The problem seems to be the bacteria and wild yeasts living all over the plums. Special ‘Campden Tablets’ are often used to wipe out these unwanted passengers, at a dose of one tablet per gallon of wine. John Wright, of River Cottage fame, suggests trying to avoid using and campden tablets if possible. However, for plum wine he recommends using two per gallon. The huge fermenting bucket was sterilised and filled with nine kilograms of mashed plums, then an unhealthy dose of tablets. Only a few feet away in the kitchen another smaller bucket sits trying to do the opposite. It sits trying to catch wild yeasts and bacteria for sourdough bread. It is a strange joy to smell as it is always different; fruity chocolaty earth scents.
On the evening of the plum processing we stopped working late and exhausted. My hands were stained a light brown like I had badly applied fake tan. The full moon hung in the dark outside, heralding autumn in the sharp cold air. I curled up in front of the woodstove with the River Cottage preserves book, but I stayed curled up and the book stayed shut. At least eight more kilograms of plums sat un-processed and complete with stones in baskets in the kitchen. I declared the rest of the night plum free. Sorry Hugh, don’t think bad of me; the plum chutney will have to wait.