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I started out to make a plum jam and took a right turn that was more fortunate than I knew at the time. The inspiration for this sauce was a cocktail, and the success of my final product means that I will be doing some further cocktail research in the very near future. I was looking for some new flavors to accent my annual plum jam, made with the bags and buckets I regularly win get from bartering or as unwanted excess from friends’ and neighbors’ trees; I came across this cocktail recipe from The Lush Chef for Plum Tarragon Smash. First, the name, right? Very intriguing. I had just procured a generous bunch of tarragon from another barter and thought I just might be able to make something good with it and the plums. The plums I had to use were similar to the Italian prune plums I find “wild” around the city, but were a little on the rosy side, perhaps a variety I don’t know or a hybrid of the prunes with a red plum. The cooked the way I am used to Italian plums cooking; you could use any ripe plum for this sauce.

I started making a batch of jam, cooking down the plums with a bit of sugar and lemon juice, but when I added the chopped tarragon, it didn’t incorporate the way I wanted; instead, there were too-big, herbaceous, tough pieces of tarragon all through my delicate fruit. I painstakingly picked out about 1 1/2 c. of plum chunks, took my immersion blender to the rest, then pushed the resulting puree through a mesh strainer. The sauce and plum pieces were recombined and brought to a boil, cooked down slightly and then warmed up further with some bourbon. I am in love. This sauce is good. I added large sprigs to the filled jars to enhance the delicate green, almost anise flavor of tarragon that was coming through; it seems to be getting tastier and tastier as it sits. When my parents were here, we had some grilled pork chops with this sauce that were stellar; it would compliment roast chicken equally well, and I have some ideas of how to make it play nicely with some squash. It’s not entirely savory, either– I have a spice cake recipe that I think would be fantastic with this as a sauce or glaze. The recipe below makes four half-pint jars; you could take it toward a jam with the addition of pectin or by macerating the fruit with tarragon for a day or so, removing it before cooking, skipping the blending step and then adding large sprigs to the finished jars. Whatever you’d like to do, I fervently suggest that you give this a try. Off to look for more cocktail recipes…

Plum Sauce with Tarragon & Bourbon

  • 5 c. ripe plums, pitted and diced
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 3 T. lemon juice
  • 1 large sprig of tarragon, leaves removed and chopped, plus more for garnish
  • 3 T. bourbon

Prepare your water bath and sterilize jars and lids. In a large Dutch oven, jam pan or similar, combine 4 c. plums and 1 c. sugar over medium-high heat. Cook for 5 or so mins. until the juice is really coming out of the fruit (the juice should be covering or almost covering the pieces of plum) and all the sugar is dissolved. Add your tarragon leaves and cook for one more minute; remove from the heat and puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Push the puree through a wire strainer, using a spoon to get as much pulp through as possible; discard the remaining skins and tarragon. Return the sauce to the heat and add the reserved 1 c. sugar, lemon juice and the reserved 1 c. plums. Bring to a boil and boil hard for about 3 mins., longer if you’d like a thicker sauce. (Be careful to keep stirring to prevent sticking and burning.) Add the bourbon and stir for one minute more. Ladle the hot sauce into hot jars, add sprigs of tarragon if desired, wipe rims and affix lids and rings. Process in the water bath for 10 mins. and then remove your jars to a clean, towel-lined counter. Allow the jars to sit undisturbed overnight and check for seals; properly sealed jars will keep for up to a year in a cool, dark place.