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Candied Plums

I've candied plums a few times now, and they're something that I find very worthwhile to make: they're always really tasty, and produce quite a large volume of candy for the amount of effort involved in making them.

I always refer to my plums as candied plums, rather than sugared plums, due to the argument around a sugared plum not actually being a plum that's candied (check out this page if you'd like to know more on that). What we do have is a recipe for candying plums, that works and makes tasty candy.

The recipe I prefer to use is from Eleanor Fettiplace's 1604 Receipt Book, quoted in Renata Kestryl's article on Stefan's Florilegium. I also have tried out a recipe in a young adult's fictional book called "At the Sign of the Sugared Plum", which doesn't list it's source, but is highly similar to the Countess of Kent's 1653 recipe to preserve damsons, quoted by Johnna Holloway in another article on Stefan's Florilegium.

I'd like to share here my process, and things that I've learnt along the way, in the hopes of encouraging others to have a go at candying plums themselves.

Based on Fettiplace's recipe, then, this is how I make my candied plums:

  1. Wash fruit. Discard any with blemishes or that's too ripe. Halve and stone fruit.
  2. Place fruit in stock pot. Take plain white sugar, and pour in until the fruit is fully covered.
  3. Place the pot on the element and heat, bringing it to a boil. Keep at a gentle boil half an hour. Don't bother skimming for impurities at this point, you'll just squish the fruit.
  4. Leave mixture, covered, for three days.
  5. Remove fruit from syrup.
  6. Bring syrup to boil and keep at a boil for half an hour, skimming off any impurities.
  7. Pour cooked syrup over plums, carefully stirring the syrup through the plums to ensure an even coating.
  8. Leave mixture, covered, for three days.
  9. Remove fruit from syrup.
  10. Bring syrup to boil and keep at a boil for half an hour, skimming off any impurities.
  11. Pour cooked syrup over plums, carefully stirring the syrup through the plums to ensure an even coating.
  12. Leave mixture, covered, for three days.
  13. Remove fruit from syrup.
  14. Add approximately 1/2kg of sugar to syrup mixture (this is when I start with about 4kg of fruit), bring the mixture to a boil and reduce down to about 1/2 the starting volume.
  15. Pour cooked syrup over plums, carefully stirring the syrup through the plums to ensure an even coating.
  16. [optional] Leave mixture, covered, for three days. I vary this depending on how I reread the recipe each year.
  17. Bring a pot of water to boil, and keep at a boil. Using your tongs, take each plum from the syrup, draining slightly, throw into the hot water, then remove and drain again.
  18. Once all the water has been drained from the plums, set them to dry in an oven at low temperature, in a dehydrator, or if you're able, on trays in a hot water cupboard, turning occasionally.
  • First, and most importantly, start with extremely firm, or slightly underripe fruit. When I've tried to make these with very ripe fruit, it just disintegrates in the cooking. Don't worry, you don't need to waste the fruit and sugar if this happens to you, it just means that you're making plum jam instead.
  • Start with the smallest plums you can find. These are incredibly sweet, people aren't going to want to eat a whole lot of them.
  • Halve the fruit to stone them. You can work really, really hard to get the stone out and leave the whole fruit intact: it's super classy if you can manage it all the way through to the finally candied fruit to have the fruit entire - but the reality is that it'll probably break into a couple of pieces during the process anyway, so you may as well save yourself the pain of cracked skin around the nail bed and begin with halves.
  • Allow approximately the same volume of sugar as there is fruit.
  • Yes, you really do want to go to the pain of removing the fruit from the syrup each time you reheat the syrup, even at the end when it really is a total pain to do so, as otherwise you're more likely to overcook the fruit and cause it to disintegrate, or darken the fruit, or cause it to catch on the bottom of the pan. Ask me how I know this.
  • Use silicon- or plastic-covered tongs to handle the fruit once it has been through the inital cooking ; this helps it to drain. Metal tongs will tend to slice the fruit, which is very delicate once cooked. Spoons don't allow drainage, and the fruit tends to slide off my slotted spoon (yours may be different though, so worth trying).
  • Colanders will help with draining the syrup from the plums when it's thick, but you're going to want a heap of patience.
  • Putting the plums through the hot water is an important step for two reasons, as far as I can tell. Firstly, it removes any excess syrup. Secondly, it slightly jellifies the flesh of the fruit.
  • Put the fruit pieces into the hot water a few at time, but keep count of how many are in there. The water will darken and become slightly mucky with strands of fruit, so counting makes sure you get all the pieces back out again.
  • In places that are prone to ants, whatever you do, don't leave your fruit anywhere to dry naturally. Use an oven or a dehydrator.