Making Plum & Golden Gage Jam & how to avoid wasp stings

Maddy Harland
Tuesday, 2nd August 2011

At this time of year the forest garden is beginning to burgeon with top fruit and so here are two recipes for plum and gage jam plus ways to avoid getting stung by wasps whilst you are out there picking the harvest.

We like making jams and chutneys to give as presents and for our larder. The first fruits to come are plums, closely followed by Oulin's Golden gage, an exquisitely juicy fruit. I usually pick early in the morning when the fruit is soft and before the wasps are too active. Making plum or gage jam couldn't be easier.

Plum Jam


4.6 lbs (2 kg) plums
1 pint (570 ml) water
4.6 lbs (2 kg) sugar

juice of half a lemon

knob of butter

Wash and wipe the plums. Make sure they are not too ripe and are dry and cut out any wasp damage. Over ripe fruit lacks pectin and acid, wet fruit can make the final jam go mouldy in the jar. Cut in halves (or thirds if you don't like too many lumps).
Put into a pan with the water and simmer gently until the fruit is soft. This extracts the pectin and acid from the fruit.
Add the sugar, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
Bring to the boil and boil rapidly until the jam sets when tested, removing the stones as they rise to the top.
Add the butter to prevent scum.

You'll know if the jam is set either by testing with a jam thermometer or by taking a teaspoonful and allowing to cool. If when cool a skin forms on the surface when you draw your finger across it, the jam is set.
Pot and seal while still hot.

Makes around 6.6 lbs (3 kg) of jam.

Nothing compares to the taste and colour of home made jam!

I use the same recipe for golden gage jam but because the gages were mostly very ripe, I added the juice of one lemon to help it set.

Avoiding Wasps

If we have left it too late to pick and wasps are abundant or I am picking for a tall tree, I use an apple picker. This is a really useful tool, especially if you have taller root stocks. It saves clambering around with a step ladder, speeds up picking and prevents wasp stings as well. You can either buy a very sturdy Burgon and Ball picker which can easily handle cooking apples later in the season and comes with its own robust handle or there is a slightly smaller and cheaper version by Nether Wallop without the handle (you add it yourself). The latter has a bag at the end and will carry a kilo of fruit. Both are well worth it if you have a lot of fruit trees and will quickly pay for themselves.

You could alternatively make a DIY version from a broom handle, by weaving heavy duty wire (try coat hangers?) into a basket form, putting a bit of foam in the bottom to cushion the fruit and attaching to the handle with a jubilee clip. If you make one please tell me what you used and send a picture of it. I'd like to post your design here to encourage others who want to make their own.

wayne |
Wed, 03/08/2011 - 03:31
Why is it that a tree brimming with plums two years in a row decides to be barren the third year? This particular tree is located in Nebraska... Thanks in advance for any words of wisdom.
wayne |
Wed, 03/08/2011 - 03:40
You don't actually avoid them. You only wish to avoid being stung! If they are flying near try to keep as still as possible. If you stick a hand into their perceived territory, forget about it. One year I grew lots of cowpeas/black eyed peas (beans, actually) and wasps would flock to the vines but I feel something in the vines pacified them. I could pluck pods very near wasps with no adverse reactions.
Maddy Harland |
Wed, 03/08/2011 - 11:08
Yes, it is true. You avoid annoying them. I had the same experience with broad beans this year. My plants were full of wasps but I picked the pods slowly and with care and didn't get stung. My preferred time for picking fruit is first thing in the morning when it is still cool. The wasps haven't fully woken up then but I am still careful not to rush around and disturb them. We co-exist quite happily and I leave a little fruit for them to eat too. Wasps get bad press but they belong in the garden, as do the hornets which look a lot scarier but are in fact more gentle.
Maddy Harland |
Wed, 03/08/2011 - 11:13
Our tree crops tend to be affected by the weather when they are in blossom. If we get strong winds, hail, a late hard frost or very heavy rain, this affects the yields as the blossom is damaged and the fruit therefore does not set so well. Fig and plum are particularly vulnerable to harsh spring weather. Some fruit trees do have a cycle of resting as well. One pear tree in the garden crops heavily one year and then 'rests' the next, regardless of weather. It is the trees natural cycle. It is a vigorous healthy tree with no disease. I think this is nature's way of keeping it in good health. Any other ideas from readers?
downsgirl |
Sat, 06/08/2011 - 08:47
at the risk of teaching grandma..... Don't forget to heat the jars before filling or they will break. I put mine in the oven (not lids) at around 100C while the jam is cooking. I put a small plate in the fridge to use to test the set (saves time). Jam sugar with added pectin is more expensive but gives a more reliable set if fruit is low in pectin. I test frequently after 8-10 minutes(take off the heat while waiting to see if it has set) rather than risk overcooking the jam and spoiling the flavour. Unset or worse - overcooked jam is such a disappointment after making all the effort!
Ant Cheshire |
Thu, 21/08/2014 - 01:40
I'm inclined to take the stones out of the fruit first - saves fishing them from the hot broth. My last jam was cherry plum, so lots of small stones! My old recipe book suggests cracking some of the stones and using the kernels to flavour the jam. This might work best if you crush them in cold water first to get the reaction going to produce the flavour. Kernels are tasty on their own too, but in moderation, save getting cyanide poisoning!