I have a lot of plums. Dennis and I picked about 45 lbs from our Santa Rosa plum tree last week. They needed a little box-ripening time; we always have to pick them a bit early because otherwise the birds get them all. But they ripen up beautifully in the cool house. I had several days to figure out what I wanted to do with this year’s crop. I made a big plum cobbler with the first batch of pecked and damaged plums. Delicious. When we picked again, I had another big basket of pecked and damaged to deal with first. And I decided I wanted to make barbecue sauce.
I looked for recipes online, first. All the recipes I found either had ketchup in them, or were for Chinese plum sauce, which I still have loads of on the shelf. I didn’t want to use ketchup. It has high fructose corn syrup in it, usually, and other things I don’t want to put into a homemade, home-canned sauce. So I turned to my canning Bible, my Ball Blue Book, the one my mother gave me when I married in 1981. I didn’t find a plum barbecue sauce, but I did find a tomato-based barbecue sauce recipe that I knew I could adapt. A rule of thumb with canning is that you should never add more non-acid ingredients than a recipe calls for (like onions or peppers or garlic or celery), but you can substitute an acid ingredient for another acid ingredient, particularly when you are adding more acid in the form of vinegar. Tomatoes are no longer considered a safely acid ingredient, which is why you have to add lemon juice or citric acid to them when you can them in the water bath. But plums are acidic enough not to need any extra acid, so in terms of safety in canning, subbing out half (or more) of the tomatoes for plums is fine.
Plum-Tomato Barbecue Sauce
4 quarts altogether of tomatoes and plums, pitted. (See Note*)
1 ½ cups chopped onions
1 ½ cups chopped sweet peppers
2 hot peppers (See Note**)
1 cup of vinegar (See Note***)
1 cup of brown sugar
1 tablespoon dry powdered mustard
1 tablespoon hot smoked paprika
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, crushed, in a cheesecloth bag
1 tablespoon salt
Cook the fruit and vegetables until tender, about 30 minutes. Strain through chinois to remove skins and seeds.
Return juicy sauce to heavy bottomed pan and reduce at a simmer, stirring frequently, until sauce has thickened and is at about half its original volume. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, and reduce heat until sauce is at a good simmer. Stir frequently. This sauce will stick to the bottom of the pan if not stirred, and as it thickens, it’s going to blurp a lot, so a spatter screen is helpful. When the sauce has reduced to the consistency of ketchup, it’s ready to jar, but taste it first. See if you want it sweeter or tangier. You can add more sugar and vinegar if you wish. Get the sauce good and hot, then spoon it into sterilized pint or half pint jars, add flats and rings, and process in boiling water bath for 20 min. Please consult an altitude chart for any additional time needed for your altitude.
*I used a bag of frozen tomatoes from last year (amazing what you find in the freezer when you have to make room for berries) which amounted to about 2 ½ quarts, so I used 1 ½ quarts of pitted plums. When I make this recipe again, I will probably go about half and half on plums and tomatoes, because while you can definitely taste the plums in the sauce, I could go a little bit more plummy.
**I used two Serrano peppers for heat. I didn’t deseed them, just threw them into the food processor with the sweet orange peppers. I got the perfect level of heat for me. If you have a tender mouth and don’t want any heat, you can omit the hot peppers, or you can go for a milder pepper, like a jalapeno. If you want a hotter sauce, do not add more peppers. That messes with the acid balance and can make a recipe unsafe to can. Instead, use hotter peppers, but use the same amount of peppers the recipe calls for (say, two ghost peppers instead of two Serrano peppers). You can add 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and a teaspoon of Tabasco sauce if you want more heat as well. The original recipe called for both, but when I tasted my sauce, it was perfect and I omitted those ingredients. I also substituted hot smoked paprika for the plain paprika called for in the original recipe. I’m glad I did. The hot smoked paprika added just a slight smokiness to the sauce. Yummy.
***I used apple cider vinegar. I always use acv instead of white vinegar when I can do so without changing the look of a product.
Expect this sauce to take several hours to cook down to ketchup consistency. It starts out as juice and has to reduce slowly for a long time, so it helps if you have something else to do in the kitchen, so you can give that blurping pan a good stir every few minutes to keep it from sticking. Me, I was canning whole plums while my barbecue sauce was cooking down. It’s plum-palooza here. And my goodness, the house smells wonderful!