Oklahoma sand plum jelly is a sweet taste of summer that practically melts into a syrup on hot biscuits, but with a flavor all its own.
I like to think our sand plum jelly is different from other states’ wild plum jelly because ours grows out of the red dirt and often comes from close to home.
My friend Sally Phillips, of Enid, and her 9-year-old granddaughter Brooklyn picked their sand plums on land they own near the Gloss Mountains. When she called me recently to ask about recipes, I referred her to my old standby from the “Stir-Ups Cookbook” published by the Junior Welfare League, of Enid, more than 30 years ago.
I’ve picked plums from the thickets on the east side of Lake Murray in southern Oklahoma and from rolling prairie sand hills north of Enid. One key to success I learned from jelly makers is in the gathering of the plums. Sure we love those big red juicy plums, but it is important to incorporate some less ripe plums when making jelly to help it gel. If you use only ripe plums, you might end up with sand plum syrup.
Got sand plum syrup? No problem. Pour it over pancakes and waffles, add it to a marinade or barbecue sauce, or combine it with equal amounts of butter and baste your Thanksgiving turkey for a plum wonderful sweet, golden-crusted finish.
I like to put jelly in half-pint or 8-ounce jars and finish them in a boiling water bath to seal that sand plum essence safely inside. The small jars are easy to store and bring to the table.
Don’t be scared off by the instructions for sterilizing. I find the liquid pectin dissolves a little easier than the powdered version. Inside the packages, you’ll find specific instructions for making jelly or jams.
Making jam or jelly is more fun with a partner. Cecil Durheim, of Enid, and his wife, Terri, make loads of jelly every year. They love clear, intensely-flavored jelly.
First of all, they don’t put too much water over the plums when starting to boil the plums to extract the juice. Then, to separate the juice from the plums and their skins and pulp, they strain it three times and save some of the juice to start the next batch to boost the flavor. So far this year, the Durheims have made 68 jars of sand plum jelly.
You will find canning jars and pectins at grocery stories, hardware stores and even large discount stores. Some pectins are designed to use less or even no sugar in processing. Some varieties allow you to sweeten jelly with honey instead of sugar or to use artificial sweeteners.
This year I was lucky enough to purchase beautiful plums all picked, washed and ready from one of my favorite farmers market vendors, Paulette Rink of the Rowdy Stickhorse Traveling Market Bus. Parker Olmstead, a summer intern in my husband’s office, from Laverne, also brought me a big batch of plums from the family farm in the Panhandle.
I asked Brooklyn Phillips what the best part of making Oklahoma sand plum jelly with her grandmother was.
“The eating,” she said.
Those of us who enjoy this bountiful gift of nature would have to agree. I say, “Bring on the biscuits.”
Sand plum pointers
Read more on preserving the harvest