Prejudice and Plum Brandy

When we were in Suffolk the other day, my brother-in-law forced upon us a large carrier bag filled with plums, the glut from his garden. Despite, or maybe because of, the dreadful summer, the plum trees are heavy with fruit, dropping it to the ground in great piles to rot down and form a squidgy, wasp-attracting mess.*

But what to do with such plummy largesse? I have to admit that I'm not that much of a fan of them as a raw fruit - altogether too loosening of the bowels for my liking. With three kilos of the little buggers, I needed something that would use them up without making me sick of the sight of it.

Some of them I made into plum crumble, and very nice it was too. But two servings each is plenty for one week, which used up less than half a kilo. Clearly eating them was never going to clear the backlog.

And so, I thought, what about something you can drink? I've tried making plum wine before, and frankly it was a disappointment. Dark and syrupy, with the kind of flavour that makes you think it should be doing you good, rather than something you can actually enjoy. As I've aged (and grown less skint), I've lost much of my enthusiasm for home-made wines anyway, preferring to leave it up to the professionals. Then I remembered my old school chum Jock Russell's splendid book about his experiences in the Balkan war, where he worked as a stringer for the Daily Telegraph. It's title is as this post,** and Slivovicz, or Plum Brandy, was a central theme.

So I thought I'd have me a go at that. Sadly in this country we're not allowed to distil our own spirits. There is, however, a cheats method more akin to the way you make Sloe Gin, and this I tried with a half of the plums. The recipe is quite simple:

2 lbs plums, pitted and sliced
2 cups sugar
1 cup brandy
1 litre vodka

Mix the whole lot together in a large kilner jar, seal up and put in a cool place. Shake daily until all the sugar has dissolved, then shoogle about once a week to keep the plums mixed nicely. After about three months, drain off the liquid, straining it into a bottle. Leave it to mature for as long as you can wait, then serve in very small quantities when it's cold outside.

This recipe only used up half the remaining plums, so I had to search for something else to do with the rest. It was then that I came across an interesting recipe for plum liquer:

2 lbs plums, pitted and sliced
2.5 lbs sugar
half a bottle of whisky

put the plums in a crock (I used a kilner jar with the rubber seal removed) and cover completely with as much of the sugar as you can get into the jar. Over time this will sook out the plum juices, turning into a clear golden liquid. Keep adding more sugar until it's all gone. Then set the jar aside somewhere at room temperature for six weeks. It may be necessary to stir the mixture to get all the sugar dissolved. Over time the plums will start to ferment, which is why you don't want the jar sealed tight.

After six weeks, strain off the liquid and add it to half a bottle of whisky (this is what the recipe said, but I guess you could use brandy, vodka or even gin at a pinch). If you use good whisky, the liqueur can be used straight away - either drunk as a digestif or poured over ice cream for a very indulgent pudding. Cheap alcohol will require a longer maturation period.

Sugar and fruit on the left, sugar, fruit and booze on the right.
See how much liquid sooks out of 2 lbs of plums!

So now I've managed to get rid of the plums, and on the plus side I should have come serious booze for Christmas. Or of course it might all be completely undrinkable, in which case I'm thinking presents for the less-favoured members of the family.

All, that is, except the plum tree in my garden, which shows no sign of fruiting whatsoever. Still, I only planted it last autumn, so I can't really complain too much.
** sadly it's out of print, but well worth reading if you can get hold of a copy. I found one here. and Amazon have secondhand copies listed.


Stuart MacBride said…
Mmm, plum brandy.

I too give nasty home made presents to family members we don't like. Gorgonzola liqueur anyone?

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