Plum Butter

There’s an old abandoned house on the bike path not far from where I live, with half its windows boarded up and the rest broken out. The roof is beginning to cave in, and every time I pass by I feel a twinge of sadness as I wonder about the people who built the house and planted the fruit trees lining the property. But for a while this summer, the sadness was trumped by joy and anticipation as the fragrant blossoms of spring swelled into thousands of prune plums, weighing down the ancient trees along the bike path.

abandoned house with plum trees

Last year, I lamented the fact that there were no plums at the farmer’s market due to a late frost (and had to console myself with this mushroom tart). This year was the exact opposite.

prune plums on tree

The plums started turning ripe in mid-August, and they were everywhere I looked. I returned to the trees several weekends in a row, plastic bags bulging and cutting into my fingers as I trotted back down the bike path. My sister and I picked until we couldn’t carry any more, and we still didn’t even come close to making a dent in the crop. Runners and bike commuters stopped to gorge themselves on plums, and some of the old locals pulled their cars onto the property and loaded up boxes from the opposite side of the fence. All in all, we ended up processing just over 100 pounds, and there were still plums dropping off the tree when we finally cried uncle.

tree full of prune plums

big bowl of ripe italian prune plums

First on the to-make list was plum butter. I made it once a couple years ago, and it’s one of the best preserves I’ve ever tried. Tart and sweet, with complex notes of vanilla bean just below the surface. I love to spread it on toast, swirl it into plain yogurt, and put it in ebelskivers.

Plum butter doesn’t use pectin; it’s cooked down until very thick and then canned. I made several batches of varying thickness, and can tell you firsthand that they are all delicious — some are more like thin preserves, and others are so thick that I have a hard time spreading them. It’s tricky to get a very thick plum butter as you’ll need to stir it constantly at the end to keep it from scorching, but it’s well worth the effort. Even if you end up with syrup, I promise it will be delicious.

plums and plum puree cooking down on the stove

Cook each batch down separately or you’ll have a hard time getting the plum butter thick enough!

plum butter on english muffin

Plum Butter


Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 2 hours

Total Time: 3 hours

Yield: 5 cups

Plum Butter

Ripe plums are cooked down with vanilla beans into a thick, tart, and incredibly delicious spread. This simple recipe doesn't use added pectin and requires minimal fuss, but does take a little patience. Delicious stirred into plain yogurt, on biscuits, as part of a stellar PB&J, or right off the spoon.


  • 4 pounds ripe but firm plums
  • 2-3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • Special equipment:
  • 6 8-oz jelly jars with lids and screw bands
  • Water bath canner or 5-6 quart heavy pot at least 9.5 inches in diameter
  • Canning funnel
  • Blender or food mill


  1. Put 5 or so small plates in the freezer for testing thickness.
  2. Cut plums in half and pit, removing any blemished spots.
  3. Combine plums, sugar, and lemon juice in a large pot (shallow with a large diameter works best).
  4. Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the back of a knife to scrape the seeds from the pod; add seeds and pod to the pot.
  5. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and cook until plums are very soft, about 10 minutes. Discard vanilla pods.
  6. Carefully puree hot plum mixture in batches in a glass blender (let it cool first if using a plastic blender!) You can also use a food mill, but take care not to exclude too much of the flavorful skin.
  7. Return plum puree to the pot and boil over medium-high heat until very thick, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours. You'll need to stir constantly and reduce the heat towards the end so it doesn't scorch.
  8. Drop a small spoonful on one of your chilled plates and pop it in the fridge for one minute. Tilt the plate; if the plum butter stays in a mound and does not run it's ready to can.
  9. To can plum butter:
  10. As the plum puree cooks down, get your boiling water canner heated up and sterilize your jars in the boiling water for 10 minutes (or better yet, use your dishwasher if it has a hot enough setting).
  11. Drain jars upside down on a clean kitchen towel and put the lids in a saucepan of boiling water to soften the seals (I just boil water in an electric kettle and pour that over the lids).
  12. Fill jars, leaving 1/4" headspace at the top. Wipe the rim of each jar using a clean damp towel, and put the lids on. Be careful not to overtighten the rings, or your jars may not seal. If you have a jar that is not completely filled, don't process it, just store in the fridge and use it first.
  13. Process in a boiling water bath, with at least 2" of water over the jar lids, for 10 minutes (add about 5 minutes for every 3,000 feet above sea level -- here in Colorado I process for 20).
  14. Remove jars and let them sit undisturbed for 12 hours, then check seals. Any jar that hasn't sealed should go in the fridge and be used first.


Adapted from Gourmet.

2 Thoughts on “Plum Butter

  1. Sara – your recipes always sound so damn delicious. I really should get up the gumption to make a couple some time…

  2. Oh my, this recipe sounds wonderful, I need to try it out. I get that same sad feeling when I see homes that go empty, then dilapidated beyond repair. There are abandoned homes that were once beautiful that I drive by occasionally just to see if anyone has rehab them.

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