I’ve made my love for Damsons very well known. These unremarkable looking little plums often get mistaken for mutant blueberries or weird grapes and overlooked entirely. The first time I saw them (being the grape hater that I am) I almost ignored them completely.
Lucky for all of us though, my curiosity got the better of me, and the few pounds I brought home with me that day ultimately became my original Damson Plum Jam, still one of my favorites to this day. Every year since then I’ve obsessively stalked the Farmers’ market, just waiting for the Damsons to make their brief appearance (usually sometime in late-August or September). No matter how busy I may be, when I see a lonely basket of Damson plums at the market, I buy them without hesitation. And I’d strongly suggest that you do the same.
As I was trying to decide what flavor combination I should make this year, Taylor pulled out the bowl of prepped and pitted plums from the fridge. And the ziplock bag with habaneros that Michelle had given me from her garden just happened to be sitting on top of it.
The universe clearly wanted some plum-habanero jam.
Was it fate? Kismet? Perhaps. More likely it was just a coincidence and the result of a disorganized fridge, but I like to think there was something greater involved. Because this jam (excuse me, jelly)? It’s pretty great indeed.
I added two entire habaneros to one batch, not knowing just how spicy the final jam would be. It’s really not that bad. Maybe a bit of lingering heat on the back of your tongue, but honestly, if I hadn’t told you there were habaneros in it you probably wouldn’t have noticed. In that respect, I wish I’d added another pepper.
Adding chile peppers to jam is always a bit of a crap-shoot (as I’ve documented before with my Strawberry Jalapeno jam and Spicy Tomato Peach preserves). The spice tends to get neutralized by the sugar and acid in the fruit, so use more than you think you might need. The particular peppers I used here were on the mild side as far as habaneros go, yours could be fiery as all get out (in which case you might hate me when your jam is rendered inedible). My suggestion? Cut off a piece of pepper and touch it to your tongue. If the pain is unbearable (go chug some milk) you know you’ve got yourself a live one, and may want to start with just one pepper in your jam. If the heat is tolerable, try two. If you really like it hot, three’s a charm.
Of course, you can always leave out the habanero entirely, no harm done.
What makes this a jelly vs a jam? It’s sort of an ambiguous distinction and some purists might still call this one a jam, since I didn’t strain it through muslin like traditional jelly. Instead, I ran the cooked plums through a food mill to remove the skins and smooth out the chunks, making for a lovely smooth texture without any of the chew that the skins often impart. I realized after the fact that the food mill would have removed the pits as well, so I probably didn’t even need to spend the time slicing and pitting these pesky fruits (which, I’ll admit, is the most tedious part of this whole process).
You can certainly skip the food mill and go for more of a chunky jam texture instead; if you do, I recommend chopping the plums coarsely or pulsing them a few times in a food processor first so the pieces of skin aren’t too large.
Damsons would be a perfect fruit for those just getting started with canning. The fruit is rich in natural pectin, the skins of the plums containing more than enough of this magical compound to thicken the jam or jelly naturally with no added pectin. That means all you need are plums, sugar, and a bit of lemon juice to make damson plum jam. And habaneros, if you’re game.
A note about these jars: I’ve been searching for a 6-oz straight-sided round jar for canning for quite some time. While I love my favorite hex jars, I like to mix it up now and then. And these round jars with white metal lids are definitely the shape I was looking for. I didn’t love the lids, however, since there is no obvious sound or visual indication that they have successfully sealed. I have almost a 99% success rate with other single piece lids, but I still take comfort in the delightful ‘pop’ that tells me the jars have successfully sealed… the plastisol-lined lug lids, even the ones without the buttons, all pop when sealed. These lids didn’t. If you look very closely and compare a jar to an unsealed lid, they do appear to be slightly more concave. And the test jar I opened had most definitely sealed properly. That said, I would not recommend using lids like these unless you are really comfortable with your canning setup and process, or if you are going to be keeping the final jams for your own personal use only, as there’s no way to be 100% sure the seal is good until you actually open the jar and hear the telltale release of suction (But having to open them kind of defeats the point of sealing them, right?)
Damson Plum & Habanero Jelly
- 2 1/2 pounds damson plums, halved and pitted
- 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 1-3 habanero peppers (to taste), cored, seeded, and finely chopped
- In a large nonreactive bowl, gently toss together the plums, sugar, and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Prepare canner and wash/sterilize 4 half-pint (or equivalent) mason jars. Keep jars in hot (not boiling) water until ready to use. Place 2 or 3 small plates in the freezer.
- Transfer the plums to a large nonreactive saucepan and add habaneros. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until plums have softened considerably and jam has turned deep purple in color. Remove from heat and carefully (jam is VERY hot at this point) run through a food mill to remove large pieces of skin. Return smooth jam mixture to saucepan and return to a full rolling boil. To test for doneness, spoon 1 teaspoon onto a chilled plate. The jam is ready if it wrinkles when nudged gently with a finger. If it isn’t yet ready, continue to cook for 1 to 2 minutes, then test again on a clean plate.
- Ladle hot jam into jars, leaving 1/4-inch of headspace. Wipe the rims clean and top with lid; screw on ring until finger tight. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove from water and let cool completely, 12 to 24 hours. Check seals. Any unsealed jars should be refrigerated and used within 1 month.
Bonus Printable Labels
Sometimes I crack myself up. Like these labels, which I absolute adore. No idea where the thought to do conversation bubble labels came from, but I’m glad it came, because these labels are totally unique and are sure to coax a smile (which will only grow once they taste what’s inside).
The downloadable PDF file includes 16 label sets with quotes, including 8 each of two different quotes (“Hey Hot Stuff” and “I Don’t Think You’re Ready”) as well as a second BONUS page of blank conversation bubbles so you can write your own! Mix and match them, use the pre-printed quips in combination with the blank bubbles for any spicy jam or jelly, or you can fill in your own clever phrases and flavors in the blank bubbles and say whatever you’d like.
To use, simply download the printable file by completing the form below. Print your labels onto full-sheet sticker paper, cut out the bubble shapes, and apply directly to the (sealed and cooled) jars.