Skip to main content

How to Can Whole Wild Plums: An Illustrated Guide

Joilene has been gardening and preserving food of all kinds for many years, and she thrives on the creativity involved in these processes.

About Wild Plums

There are many varieties of wild plums that grow in different locations, but their taste and performance in recipes are similar enough that I have chosen not to quibble about varieties. Many wild plum trees are robust and hardy and will bear fruit in even inhospitable areas, in which most other fruit trees succumb—places where drought, high winds, wildlife, and grazing animals can make the health of a fruit tree precarious.

Wild plums, unlike many of their domestic counterparts, are small, tart, and about the size of a large grape. They tend to have drier flesh and don't usually cook down into a fine-grained jam or sauce. The pits, or stones, make up about a third of the plums' size, and the skins can be relatively thick. The fruits ripen in September and are easily blown down once they begin to soften.

While there are several nice ways to use wild plums, besides just eating them off the tree, one of my favorites is to can them in a light syrup. Used in this way, they can make the dreariest winter's day seem bright and add a wonderful sparkle to any holiday table. Children and adults alike love them.

Canning Equipment

  • Fresh, wild plums (any variety)
  • Boiling water bath or steam canner
  • Canning jars (any size), with appropriate lids (I prefer pints for whole wild plums)
  • Jar lifter
  • Tongs or magnetic lid lifter
  • Sauce pot (for boiling syrup)
  • Colander (for draining plums)
  • Ladle
  • Canning funnel (has a wider mouth which fits just inside jar rims)
  • Thin bladed knife, needle, or sewing pin (for pricking plums)

Step 1: Prepare Your Equipment

Wash (sterilize if necessary) and examine all jars (chips, cracks), rings (bent, excessive rust), and lids (misaligned rubber). Heat boiling water bath canner, about two-thirds full of water for a full load.

Wash (sterilize if necessary) and examine all jars (chips, cracks), rings (bent, excessive rust), and lids (misaligned rubber). Heat boiling water bath canner, about two-thirds full of water for a full load.

Gently simmer lids in a saucepan (don't boil!), or put them in a cake tin and scald them by pouring on boiling water to cover.

Gently simmer lids in a saucepan (don't boil!), or put them in a cake tin and scald them by pouring on boiling water to cover.

Step 2: Prepare a Light Syrup

A light, or even extra-light, syrup is sufficient for these plums, sweetening them pleasantly but not making them so loaded that people with sugar sensitivities can't enjoy them. A light syrup is considered to be about 30% sugar and 60% water.

To make a light syrup:

  1. Put about 5 cups of drinking-quality water in a large sauce pot. Then add about 2 cups of granulated sugar.
  2. Bring to a boil, and simmer until somewhat thickened.
  3. Remove from heat once it reaches desired consistency.

That's it!

If you need more syrup, increase the quantity of water and sugar, keeping the proportions at about 1:2.

Step 3: Wash the Plums

Place freshly picked plums in a sink full of cool water and rinse them free of dirt, leaves, sap, and other matter.

Place freshly picked plums in a sink full of cool water and rinse them free of dirt, leaves, sap, and other matter.

Set them to drain a few minutes in a colander.

Set them to drain a few minutes in a colander.

Step 6: Cool and Store Jars

Set jars on a towel or board away from drafts to cool overnight. Lids may "ping" as they seal. When completely cool, check lids, and refrigerate or reprocess any unsealed jars. Store in a cool, dark place.

Set jars on a towel or board away from drafts to cool overnight. Lids may "ping" as they seal. When completely cool, check lids, and refrigerate or reprocess any unsealed jars. Store in a cool, dark place.

Questions & Answers

Question: I canned whole, wild plums and a lot of liquid came out of my jars. What did I do wrong?

Answer: I've never noticed this problem with this recipe, though a small amount of loss is normal during boiling...so my guess is you need to tighten the screw bands on the lids a bit more. Also, making the lids extremely tight can warp the lid, and so lead to loss. Lids should be finger tight - snug, but not difficult to turn.

Question: How do you get the pits out of wild plums?

Answer: In this recipe, you don't remove the pits before canning. One normally wouldn't eat more than a few of these at a time, so the pits are taken (or spit) out at the table, similar to eating fresh cherries. If one were to remove pits before packing fruit into jars, this would mush the plums into something more like jam, and detract from the appearance. It would change both texture and flavor somewhat. Pitting wild plums is a time consuming and messy job, best done by cutting each plum with a knife, if firm, or pricking the stem end and squashing the seed out of the flesh, if soft. Much juice is lost this way, particularly if the pits are not taken out over a bowl whose purpose is to catch the juice, then discarded in a different container. If you choose to use this method, wear old clothes, as plum juice stains a poop brown when dry.

Question: Can canned plums be used later in recipes for jelly, sauce, pies, etc? If so, how does the syrup interfere with the recipes?

Answer: You may use canned plums for other things, and I have occasionally done so. Strain most of the syrup out for pies and such, though you can probably use it as part of your recipe for jams and especially jellies; if you keep track of the sugar proportions, which will affect how well these items jell.

Question: Can whole wild plums be stored without freezing?

Answer: Of course. Canning is a traditional storage method which has never relied on freezing to keep foods good.

© 2010 Joilene Rasmussen