Wild Plum Jelly Experiment

About a week ago, I hatched a grand plan to make wild plum jelly, take pictures of the process, and share it will all of you. A “country girl living off the land” kinda thing. I felt so rustic as Harland and I picked the plums from the trees we found on the edge of our cornfield. I lovingly spread them out on newspapers on the floor of our spare bedroom to ripen. I had to keep Kitty out of the room all week because she wanted to play with them. As they ripened, I put them in containers and slapped them in the fridge to keep them fresh. Yesterday was the big day. I bought cute little half pint jelly jars, cheesecloth, sugar, and pectin. I’ve made jelly before, I can do this. Found a recipe online specifically for wild plums, and followed it to a T. I washed the plums, and put them in a big stockpot.

They looked a little rough, but hey, they’ve never been sprayed for bugs and such. And they’re only about the size of marbles, but this is the wild, and we’re getting into it with our jelly making! So I added water to the plums per the recipe directions, and brought it to a boil.

Boiled it for 15 minutes per the directions, and them mashed the plums with a potato masher.

Kitty helped, as she always does.

See that box on the floor near Kitty? It has 2 bottles of wine in it. If I’d known what the afternoon was to bring, I would have been drinking one of those bottles.

Once mashed, I poured the mixture into a tea towel in a colander, and placed the colander over a pot to collect the plum juice that would later be used to make the jelly.

It was at this point that doubt began to creep in.

The plum mash looked kinda gross. In fact it looked like, well, um….   I called Harland into the kitchen, and asked for his opinion.

“Looks like throw-up”, he said. Harland never beats around the bush.

Cups and cups of clear lovely pink plum juice was supposed to drain out of this slop into the pot below. I waited for several hours, and in the end all I got was about a cup of cloudy grey fluid. Not anywhere near enough to make jelly, and gross looking anyway.

I went into the office where Harland was working on the computer, and flopped into the chair with the loudest sigh I could come up with. He continued to work, and didn’t seem to notice. And so I announced, “Well, the wild plum jelly making thing is a complete failure.”

“What?! Why?”  he asked. I told him about it.

“Well, do you want to get more plums and try again?”

“No”, I replied. “I’m going to buy some big plums from the store, and try again with those.

I threw the slop away, and looked with dismay at my kitchen full of dirty dishes. I sulked around for the rest of the evening. Don’t know what went wrong. But my guess is that the plums didn’t have enough juice in them due to this summer’s drought. So much for my living on the wild side experiment.

But I’m determined now.  I’m buying some lovely store-bought plums, and will make jelly tonight.


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Cattle, corn, wheat, beans, mud, snow, ice, and drought. Plenty of fresh air and quiet. Our life is sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes joyous, but never boring.

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46 Responses

  1. Bummer. Sorry to hear your plum plans didn’t work out.
    I had a similar problem making applesauce once. We were renting a place with apple trees and I was sure I could make applesauce out of them. They were bitter beyond belief. It’s not your fault the fruit failed. I’ll bet your new jelly tastes marvelous this winter. And, you’ve got to use all those cute jars!

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Gardener,
      The cute jars are part of my motivation. I’m just dying to see some homemade jelly in them. Sorry your applesauce didn’t work out either. Boo.
      Thank you,

  2. Darla says:

    I have made wild plum jelly (or sand hill plum) for several years. Here’s some helpful hints for you….first, your plums should be dark red or purple in color for them to be totally ripe. I wash my plums and sometimes even take a paring knife and make small slits in them to help them cook faster. I use a mesh bag with metal holder to strain the juice from the pulp, seeds and skins. This item is ususally sold along side canning supplies either by itself or included in a canning utensil kit. It does take quite a few plums to get a good amount of juice. Don’t get discouraged, if you don’t want to try it this year, there will always be plums next year. I picked and cooked down so much last year, that I cooled the juice and poured it into reused plastic jugs and put it in the freezer. That way I always have juice on had if I run out of jelly and need to make more. Good luck with your jelly ventures!

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Darla,
      I wasn’t familiar with this plum, so I didn’t know they had to be darker in color. Thank you so much for your advice! I don’t think there are enough plums left on the trees this year, but I’ll try again next year. Thank you much!

  3. shelljo says:

    Not sure why they didn’t work right–maybe the plums weren’t really plums? or weren’t ripe?

    We pick sandhill plums out here in West Ks during june and july. They are red when ripe. This year, we have had a bumper crop and I’ve got 6 gallon bags of sandhill plums waiting in the freezer for me to make jelly when it cools off.

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Shelljo,
      Just learned from Darla (see her comment above) that the plums weren’t ripe. Will try again next year.
      Thank you much!

  4. Oh, Suzanne! What a bummer :<

    I probably would have hit the wine box! It is so disheartening when your "food of love" doesn't turn out…

    At least when next time rolls around you will know what NOT to do 🙂

    Do you think that maybe the grey color came from the dye in the tea towel?

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Gena,
      I’m wondering that too about the towel. When I saw how fine the pulp was, I realized that it was going to go right thru the cheesecloth, so I grabbed the only tea towel we have. I’ll try again next year.
      Thank you!

  5. Wow…all that work! Good try!


  6. Vivian says:

    So sorry about your failed experiment. Sounds like you got some good advice for next year, though. Years ago I went strawberry picking and had so many I decided to make strawberry preserves. I’m not sure what happened, but I think I cooked them too long, because after I had put them in jars and they cooled, the preserves were as hard as a rock. I could stick a knife into the preserves and it would stand straight upright in the jar! Funny thing, the preserves tasted fine. (maybe a bit chewy!) But I just about had to chisel them out of the jars when I decided to throw them away! lol Very discouraging at the time, but funny now.

  7. Melanie says:

    You win some and ya lose some!! Sometimes you just never win!! I made dill pickles 3 times before I decided that it was a lost cause–and didn’t try again!! But I CAN make a lot of other stuff!! Hope next year works out better for the jelly!

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Melanie,
      Thanks for the encouragement, and sorry the pickles didn’t work out for you. Maybe you’ll try again someday?
      Thanks again!

  8. Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. I always feel bad when you spend so much time and energy on a project that doesn’t work out. I’m not a jelly maker, so I can’t offer any advice, just good luck for next time!

  9. Teresa says:

    What a shame! I hope the boughten plums work better.

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Teresa,
      Bought the plums last night. Keep your fingers crossed- I’m going to try making jelly tonight.
      Thank you.

  10. LesleyAnn says:

    I made jelly from plums purchased at Walmart! HA!! It was great! Everyone loved it. I hope you enjoy your jelly on a big cat-head biscuit. 🙂

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Lesley Ann,
      I bought plums from Walmart last night, and I’ll give it another try tonight. Wish me luck!
      Thank you!

  11. Shailaja says:

    Better luck next time! And, that glint (of determination) in your eyes tells me you’ll succeed!

  12. Granny J says:

    It can be soooo discouraging to work that hard and get less than stellar results…been there many a time. I would not even try making jelly without a steam juicer (google it)…it is the only way to go ~in my humble opinion! One year a friend and I picked Elderberries. Using the steam juicer we got 13 GALLONS of juice! We filled every container we could find! Good luck with the next try.

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Granny,
      I’ve been eyeing the elderberries alongside the road and thinking about jelly with them too. Hmmmm…..
      Thanks for the advice about the steam juicer. Will look into it.

  13. Oh Suzanne! I am so sorry about your plum jelly! I totally know the feeling of something gone wrong…it stinks! Especially when you have such high hopes! Well, I may be in the same boat as you in a couple of days. 2 posts ago, I wrote about picking pears from a pear tree at my sister in laws house. she moved into a new home last year and this summer her pear tree is loaded! I picked a bunch on Thurs and I am planning on making pear butter and canning it. I have never made pear butter before and…this is my first time canning. I’ve been doing all my research and I am using a reputable recipe from Ball…but I don’t know how it will turn out!!!!! You’ll know soon enough! P.S. I will be looking for your next attempt from your store bought plums…can’t wait to see how it turns out! And by the way, I bought yellow plums at the farmer’s market this summer and they were THE BEST tasting plums I have ever ate! Delicious. I can’t remember the name of them, but man were they good!

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Bonnie,
      Good luck with your pear butter. I made apple butter a couple years ago. Take a long time to cook down, but it’s so worth it in the end.
      Thanks for the encouragement!I’m making jelly tonight.

  14. Elaine Snively says:

    I once tried to make jam out of Serviceberries. Picked, washed, cooked, added sugar and Sure-Jel. Followed the directions. Looked like grape juice. Hummm! Decided to add a box of lemon Jello. My mother, standing at my elbow, was disbelieving and said so. Stirred. Still grape juice. What the heck, I thought, what have I got to lose at this point, as I blithely added another box of lemon Jello. Lo and behold, what was in the pan began to look like jam. Poured it into jelly jars, put on lids, and let it sit overnight. Not only did it set up, it was some of the tastiest freezer jam I have ever made. However, I never had the nerve to try it again. 🙂

  15. Susan Krug says:

    Sand Plum Jam
    We here in Russell County, Kansas love Sand Plum Jam
    After boiling,just mash through a collander with a potato masher. Keep all pulp that you can get. Discard seeds and skin. Make jam!!!!A bit tart. Use over meat, over cream cheese with crackers, or on bread. Good Luck!

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Susan,
      I had no idea what those plums should look like when ripe, and so I thought they were ripe. I will remember next year. They were really pulpy, so maybe I will make jam instead of jelly. Thank you for the advice!

  16. MamaKoch says:

    I would say the plums weren’t ripe. I’d made a lot of wild sandplum jelly and I just put a very small amt of water in the kettle and just let them steam. The skins will get soft and you can strain the juice out of them. Do you have a tomatoe collander? That is the best thing to strain them with.

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi MamaKoch,
      I didn’t have a tomato colander then, but I do now. And next year I will let them ripen first. Thank you for the tips!

  17. Linda says:

    I bought plums that looked just like those at a farmer’s market in Chandler, OK a few years ago and made plum bread with them. I used a recipe I found on Allrecipes.com, called “Plum Quick Bread”, and it was delicious. I’m jealous of anyone who has access to those plums! But I would have done exactly the same thing you did if I had tried to make jelly. 😉

  18. Karen says:

    Your problem is your plum weren’t ripe. Wild plums turn a beautiful corally-red color when ripe. Try again with plums that color. The result is amazing!

  19. Allison says:

    Oh, this reminds me of the time I tried to make persimmon jam…. sadness and wine ensued and I had my husband take a bite of the stringy, pulpy light tan mess after he said it smelled kind of good: I wish I had been filming his face as his lips puckered and his forehead made for his eyebrows!!! Ah, memories 🙂

  20. Alissa says:

    My aunt showed me how to make plum jelly. . . we pick the plums when they are good and ripe. We also throw in a few green ones while cooking them down to increase the pectin levels. After boiling them we stick them in a metal strainer and mash the poop out of them. We use a sieve and mash the hot mixture into a pan to get out all the juice. After that we can up the juice and add 2 tbsp of the yellow “poop” to each jar and process the juice. Then when ready to make the jelly add 5 1/2 cups of juice warm it up. Add 1 packet of powdered pectin boil then and 7 1/2 cups sugar and boil hard for one minute. Then use a microstrainer to put jelly into sterilized jars. We eliminated the cheese cloth step cause as Aunty would say. . . we aint doin more than we have to here:>) Process hot water bath for 10 minutes. Yummy!! Jelly comes out clear with no extra “poop” Good luck and don’t give up!

  21. Donna says:

    What a fun read and great advice! My husband just picked a bucket of ripe plums from down by the ‘crik’ and we’ll give it a go. It’s been years since I’ve made jelly, this Sandhill Plum is probably my favorite…. Wish us luck!

  22. C D Greier says:

    Apparently that kind of plum is only fully ripe when red on the tree & doesn’t actually ripen after picking, just goes softer to mess with us! The (un)ripeness & pectin content could affect how much juice can be released from the pulp.

    Also, when straining any pulp thru’ a cloth/jellybag, dampen the whole thing so the juice doesn’t just soak into it; it’s surprising how much difference this makes & how much less sticky everything gets & how many fewer fruitflies are attracted!

  23. CAthy says:

    I just finished making my juice from wild plums that looked like your. I had some red and coral colored ones mixed in. After a quick wash, I put the plums in a heavy kettle with about an 1/8 in of water (just so they don’t stick. After boiling them I mash them. Then I pour them over a cheesecloth lined colander. I think you tea towel was too thick. Just let the clear juice flow through (don’t mash at this point. good luck

  24. Rich says:

    I just got back from the farm in Kansas. We picked a bushel of plums. All we did was cook them, covered with water. After cooking, we let the juice run/drip through a tea-towel–we did not smash the plums. The juice was a beautiful pink color. We followed the recipe on the Pectin box for plums. The jelly is fantastic! Can’t wait to find more next summer. Good luck the next time you try it. It is definitely worth it.

  25. Gaby says:

    I came across this correspondence while googling wild plum jelly. I found an entry that said wild plums come in many colors including yellow, so probably yours were ripe. There is a tree in my yard with tiny red to purple fruit. I made some jelly last year, but it was rather bland, and anyway I can’t remember exactly what I did. None of the recipes I’ve seen take account of how small my plums are, too small to cut into half and impossible to mash with the stone still in. I probably used a Mouli.

  1. September 2, 2010

    […] Whoa, whoa, whoa….hold on there. The last time we tried that it didn’t come out. Remember the attempt at Wild Plum Jelly? […]

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