September 01, 2001

Plum Jam Fit for Piping Hot Tea



At summer’s end, each Russian household was traditionally caught up in frenetic activity to preserve the summer’s bounty and ensure a plentiful and tasty winter season.  Even today, twenty-first-century Russians flock to the countryside to pick berries and mushrooms for pickles, jams, and preserves. If they are lucky, they also have access to orchards, where they can pick delicious stone fruits like plums and cherries.

Russian preserves are not the thick, boiled-down jams we are used to spreading on toast. Instead, they are whole pieces of fruit suspended in sparkling sugar syrup.  The preserves are the perfect accompaniment to Russian tea.  Served with a spoon in small glass saucers, they make a lovely fruit confection to be savored alongside the aromatic tea.

To make Russian-style preserves the fruit is washed, but not peeled, and then cooked lightly in sugar syrup so that it retains its shape. As the fruit cooks, it should be shaken in the pan, never stirred, to avoid breaking it up.  The result is spectacular.  In Ivan Bunin’s story “Sukhodol,” so many shimmering preserves are offered at a fancy tea that it is impossible for the guests to taste them all at one helping, so they repeatedly approach the table to sample the vast assortment.  These plum preserves are hard to resist.


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