Part one: The best is yet to plum
When I was just 11 years old, fresh into Big School and completely out of my social depth, one of our first food technology lessons involved making a fruit crumble. It felt like a fairly pointless exercise. “I hate fruit!” I said, probably, it was 13 years ago so this whole story will mostly be artful conjecture, a bit like a Philipa Gregory novel. “I’m not even going to eat it! What a waste of my valuable education! I could be learning to make bread, or chocolate cake, or anything else that isn’t completely disgusting!”
We were allowed to choose which fruit to put in the crumble, and because I literally couldn’t care less, I asked my dad what he would like. He loves crumble. He would definitely eat the monstrosity – it might as well be his favourite flavour.
“How about plums?” he suggested. “Plums are lovely.”
What I hadn’t factored in, because I was still so new to the big bad world of secondary schools – where kids finally discovered cliques and were at least a decade away from learning that you’re better off without them – was what my crumble of choice would say about ME.
Plum crumble is not, you know, the most conformist option. It’s not apple. It’s not tasteful highlights and a Jane Norman bag – it’s more like blood red nail polish and black eyeshadow that reaches your eyebrows. It makes you stick out a bit. At that tender young age, I had yet to learn all these things.
I was also spectacularly bad at making plum crumble, which finished up all lumpy and purple with its own juices, not smooth and golden like everyone else’s.
“What IS that?” someone asked.
“Are you REALLY going to eat it?” asked another, like I’d just announced my “secret ingredient” was cat food or beetles. With shame and frustration – “I don’t even EAT fruit? Why have I suddenly been lumbered with a reputation as a weird fruit eater?” – I went as purple as the very plums at the centre of my humiliation.
Like I said, I don’t really remember all the details, I just remember that I have resented plums even more than most other fruits ever since.
But it’s okay to stand out from the crowds, you guys. It’s okay to try new things, even if they look gross. It’s even okay to wear black eyeshadow up to your eyebrows, although I prefer the subtle-lids-bold-lips look these days.
And with that astonishing and inspiring lesson about personal growth, I will now eat a plum. I hope I don’t choke on my own insufferability, or a pit.
The good thing about plums is they’re not furry. But they are… incredibly boring. The skin is nice and crunchy, but the flesh inside is just odd. Like, not really smooth but not an interesting texture either. Just kind of grainy.
It’s not even that I dislike the flavour. It’s just – get this for personal growth – I like other fruits more.
(Hattie, on reading this: “Amy, you say that EVERY fruit has betrayed you more than all the other fruits. You don’t have to psychoanalyse your entire childhood every time you blog.”)
Part two: Feeling jammy
My stepmum, who is an absolute queen in so many ways, is also an excellent cook. When she and my dad were first dating, she would occasionally bring us victoria sponges that she had made. The problem is, I couldn’t eat them – or, more specifically, I couldn’t eat the jam in the middle.
Once she realised this, she she began making half-and-half cakes instead – one side with jam, the other with buttercream. On top, she would trace an icing sugar ‘A’ over the half which I could eat.
I told you she was great.
But, you know, I’m a grown up now, and eating cakes with jam in them is an important step in my fruity education. So here’s what you do.
Step one: Slice your pums in half. The pit will get in the way, but if you make the cut all the way around, you can twist the two halves apart with your hands. Dig out the pit, using a knife if it’s particularly stubborn. (But be careful, I stabbed fingers in the process.)
Step two: weigh the plums, and then add them to a pot with some water and lemon juice. Bring to the boil, then simmer until it’s gloopy. I wasn’t sure that this would work, because I had 500g of plums, which meant if I followed the recipe it was about 33ml of water. I was pretty sure the plums would just burn. But I added a little extra water halfway through and it was okay!
Step three: Once it’s gloopy, stir in an equal amount of sugar (in my case, 500g). This dissolves very quickly, and this is the point at which I added a teaspoon of cinnamon and ginger just to spice things up a bit. It’s Christmas!
Step four: Whack up the heat and stir continuously until it reaches ‘setting point’. I have no idea what this means, and I certainly don’t have a ‘jam thermometer’. But after about five minutes there was definitely a point at which the mixture changed from boiling liquid to REALLY BUBBLY LIQUID RISING UP EVERYWHERE TO KILL ME POSSIBLY so I assumed this was the setting point and took it off the heat.
Step five: Once it cools down a bit, pour into an empty, clean jar. (I had enough to fill two.) Leave to cool and pop the lid on.
Step six: Present to your loved ones as a touching and thoughtful Christmas present that only cost you a quid. Handmade labels and quirky covers on top is also a plus. I crocheted this one myself because I am extremely talented.
I had this on toast for breakfast the next morning. It was kind of… stiff. I mean, I’m not that used to jam but it definitely shouldn’t tear the bread apart.
Anyway, the Christmas spices made it totally worth it. Victoria sponge, I’m coming for you!