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How to Can Whole Wild Plums — An Illustrated Guide

Updated on October 14, 2016
ButterflyWings profile image

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

Hardy Fall Fruit

A stand of wild plum trees on my dad's farm.
A stand of wild plum trees on my dad's farm.

There are many varieties of wild plums that grow in different locations, but their taste and performance in recipes is 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 and tart, 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.

What You'll Need to Can Whole Wild Plums

  • 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 One - Prepare Your Equipment

Wash (sterilize if necessary) and examine all jars (chips, cracks), rings (bent, excessive rust), and lids (misaligned rubber). Heat boiling waterbath 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 waterbath canner, about two-thirds full of water for a full load.
Either gently simmer the lids (don't boil!), or set them in a small pan and pour on boiling water to cover, to scald them.
Either gently simmer the lids (don't boil!), or set them in a small pan and pour on boiling water to cover, to scald them.

Step Two - 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.
  4. That's it!

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

Step Three - 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 Four - Prick the Plums, Pack into Jars

Prick each plum with a pin, needle, or knife, so it doesn't explode when heated. Pack plums snugly into jars.
Prick each plum with a pin, needle, or knife, so it doesn't explode when heated. Pack plums snugly into jars.
Ladle hot syrup to cover plums, leaving 1/2" headspace.
Ladle hot syrup to cover plums, leaving 1/2" headspace.
Wipe rims with a clean, damp cloth, then screw on lids tightly, but not over-tight.
Wipe rims with a clean, damp cloth, then screw on lids tightly, but not over-tight.
Place filled jars in the boiling waterbath canner rack.
Place filled jars in the boiling waterbath canner rack.

Step Five - Process Plums in a Boiling Waterbath Canner or Steam Canner

Carefully place rack of filled jars into a canner of simmering water. Beware of splashes and steam burns! Put on lid.
Carefully place rack of filled jars into a canner of simmering water. Beware of splashes and steam burns! Put on lid.
Wait for water to come to a rolling boil before you begin timing. Process pints and half-pints for 20 minutes, quarts for 25.
Wait for water to come to a rolling boil before you begin timing. Process pints and half-pints for 20 minutes, quarts for 25.
Carefully remove jars from canner using a jar lifter.
Carefully remove jars from canner using a jar lifter.

Step Six - Cool and Store Jars

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

Finding Wild Plums Near You

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    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

      That was so interesting. It looks delicious.

      Putting plenty of pictures on this type of hub is ideal. Thank you. It's not always so easy to follow words alone. Well done and thank you again

    • ButterflyWings profile image
      Author

      ButterflyWings 6 years ago

      DF,

      Thanks so much.

      I agree that pictures enhance recipes a great deal. If nothing else, they give you an idea of whether it's something you actually want to eat. :)

    • LiftedUp profile image

      LiftedUp 6 years ago from Plains of Colorado

      How beautiful the coloring of those plums! Thanks for this hub.

    • ButterflyWings profile image
      Author

      ButterflyWings 6 years ago

      Lifted Up,

      You are most welcome. I had much pleasure putting this hub together, because the photos were so cheery. :)

    • RunAbstract profile image

      RunAbstract 6 years ago from USA

      I love that you wrote this article, and gave us such wonderful steps, with pictures! I see tons of wild plums every fall. Now I know just what to do with them! Thank you so much!

    • ButterflyWings profile image
      Author

      ButterflyWings 6 years ago

      RunAbstract, I am so glad I could be of help! These plums are delicious, so make lots. ;)

    • cranberrybrook 6 years ago

      I am SO excited to try this today!! I have 5 wild plum trees, and didn't want to make 10,000 quarts of preserves or spend $200 on a steam juicer this year! Thanks!

    • ButterflyWings profile image
      Author

      ButterflyWings 6 years ago

      Cranberrybrook, I share your excitement! Our plums are not quite ripe yet, but I am looking forward to renewing my supply. I am also looking forward to making Spiced Wild Plums, canned. The ones shown here are good, but the spiced ones are *fabulous*. I have a hub just about ready to go up, showing how to do those, so stay tuned.

    • Helen Mitchell 21 months ago

      a friend gave me a bag of ornamental plums. they are the size of cherries or large grapes. I want to can them. Question...... they are still hard - can I still do this or see if they get a bit softer 1st ?

      hoping this is seen and answered soon. I am on facebook so you can answer there if need be. (helen.mitchell.505@facebook.com)

    • ButterflyWings profile image
      Author

      ButterflyWings 21 months ago

      Helen,

      I'm not sure what "ornamental" plums are as opposed to other small types. But if they are edible, and taste good to you, I don't see why you shouldn't be able to can them at any stage. In fact, with normal wild plums, their being too soft when they are completely ripe is a bigger concern than too hard. So yours being somewhat hard may help them hold their shape better. The only thing I'd watch out for is how tart or (sometimes) bitter they are, if your plums are not really ripe. They may give you a tummy ache, as will many "green" (immature) fruits. If yours do go soft before you do something with them, the worst that can happen is you wind up with jam instead of whole plums. Just taste your product before you fill your jars, and decide whether to add more sugar, spices, or what you like.

      Anyway, have fun with your experiment and remember that it's good to try new things. :-)

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