Sunday, June 29, 2008

From Tree to Jars

I’m often asked if I base my characters on real people.  For the most part, the answer is no.  I may take a character trait from one person, the dimple from the cheek of another, and a turn of speech from yet another, then bestow them on a character I’ve otherwise made up from scratch.  

From my husband, I’ve taken Dwight Bryant’s penchant for planting trees on the land he now shares with Deborah Knott.  In Dwight, it’s a subconscious manifestation of his commitment to her and to their marriage.  

My Brooklyn-born husband is equally fond of growing fruit.  He shares his pears from here to Raleigh.  His blueberry bushes are ten feet tall.  His fig trees could nourish a small village for the month of August. Plums have usually eluded him, though.  They either die before they are old enough to bear or else they bloom before the last killing frost of winter.  This year, he got lucky.  The trees were so loaded with plums last week that I shut down my computer and made plum conserve.

Come Thanksgiving with its turkey and smoked oyster dressing, it won’t be store-bought cranberry sauce in my mother’s cut-glass bowl that goes around the table.   

I wish I could say that I used a secret family recipe.  Alas, it’s a modification of one I found in my old red-plaid Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that’s falling apart.  If you have some extra plums this year and want to try it, here’s my version.  It’s very forgiving and measurements don’t have to be precise:

5-6 cups of plums l orange                                   

3 cups sugar 2 cups golden raisins

1 lemon 1½ cups broken pecans

Mash the plums to release some juice.  Simmer in a covered pan till the skins are tender.  Cool and remove the seeds, then chop coarsely.  Measure 4 cups of pulp back into the pot with the sugar.  Grate the peel from the orange or slice just the orange part into thin slivers, then discard the thick white rind and the stringy central membranes.  Chop the flesh and add to the pot.  Slice the lemon in half lengthwise.  Remove seeds and the central membrane, then cut into paper-thin slices.  Add to the pot along with the raisins and cook until thick and the lemon and orange peels are translucent.  Add the pecans; seal in hot sterilized half-pint jars.  Makes about 7.

Deborah keeps telling Dwight that she doesn’t freeze and she doesn’t can, but if he grows plums like these, she just might change her mind.

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