Satsuma Plum and Husk Cherry Jam

Of all the seedlings I started last January, my ground cherries fared best. (Ground cherries are also called “husk cherries,” or sometimes “cape gooseberries.”) They proved hardy from the start, weathering all sorts of storms — including one that tipped the greenhouse on its side and dumped them all onto the floor. They chugged straight through their long growing season, whether planted in containers or in the ground, and now I am harvesting the fruit.

Do you know these husked beauties? Their flavor is difficult to describe. Kate at The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking said they are something like a “convergence of cantaloupe and blueberries.” (She posted a wonderful ground cherry primer earlier this summer.) I find them to be sweet and tart at the same time, beginning like a baby tomato and ending on a tropical note. Is that pineapple? It’s hard to say. But they are surprising and delicious and, as Stewart said, “each one is like unwrapping a little present.”

Because they are so tiny, rolling in over the course of a few weeks, it would be difficult for me to gather enough to make a batch of straight ground cherry preserves.  That may be a blessing, because it made me consider what they might do in a mixed jam. Good things, I’ll tell you!

I began by pulling a two-pound bag of satsuma plum slices out of the freezer, mixing them with sugar and lemon juice, and setting them aside to macerate for a day or so. (I am loving our new storage freezer. After this summer, I have piles of great fruit in there: three kinds of plums, wild blackberries, strawberries, figs, my Alaskan lingonberries, and a couple of other things that I’ve already forgotten, which is why I put a whiteboard on the outside to record everything I put into it. Having a freezer took all kinds of pressure off of summer preserving, and it’s great to be able to dip into a store of fruit to combine the flavors of different seasons.) I added the just-picked ground cherries when I was ready to make the jam.

These two fruits make a luscious mix. It definitely feels like a fall jam, with an earthy, warm flavor, so I didn’t hesitate to use heavier organic sugar. I find that the darker, wetter organic sugar sometimes messes with the appearance and set of a preserve, but that wasn’t true here. The texture is rich and the set is lovely. This is one of those rare recipes that feels right the very first time I make it. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Satsuma Plum and Ground Cherry Jam

2 pounds satsuma plum slices (or whatever kind of plums you have)
1 pound husked ground cherries
4 1/2 cups organic sugar
2 ounces lemon juice
2 tablespoons Cointreau (optional)

1. In a large bowl, combine the plum slices, sugar, and lemon juice. Cover the bowl tightly and place it in the fridge for 24-48 hours. (If they’re fresh, 24 hours should do it. I let mine go longer because they were frozen and also because I had too much stuff to do to get to them sooner. With plums, two days in sugar hasn’t been a problem for me.)

2. After the plums have macerated, sterilize your jars and place 5 metal teaspoons on a plate, to test your jam for doneness later.

3. Add the ground cherries to the plums and transfer the mixture to your jam pan.

4. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until it thickens, stirring as needed to keep it from sticking. You may need to turn down the heat a bit toward the end of the cooking process, when you’ll also want to be stirring the mixture frequently. Cooked in an 11-quart copper pan, my jam was ready in 22 minutes.

To test your jam for doneness: Remove the pan from the heat. Use one of your frozen spoons to scoop up a dollop of the mixture — not a whole spoonful. Return the spoon to the freezer and wait 3 minutes. Retrieve the spoon and hold it vertically. If the mixture just fails to run or runs very slowly, and if it is thick and gloppy when you push it with your finger, it’s done. (If it sits solidly on the spoon, staring back at you and not moving at all, it’s probably overdone and you’ll have an overly firm set. Ideally, it will move a little bit on the spoon.) If the jam isn’t done, cook it a few minutes more.

5. When the jam is ready, remove it from the heat and stir in the Cointreau.

6. Pour your hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Add lids and process 10 minutes in a water-bath canner.

Makes 5-6 half pints.

Speaking of whiteboards, we keep one in the kitchen, too. It’s great for jotting down our shopping list, but I’m also finding it handy for working out new recipes. I can scribble notes as I go along, then transfer them to the blog or my preserving notebook later. And speaking of good mixes, we’ve still got raspberries here. How does raspberry ground cherry sound?

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