PRATT — Sand plum enthusiasts are smiling all around Pratt County as a bumper crop of wild sand plums ripens in the area. And many of those appreciate not only the natural beauty of the red fruit, but also the potential it represents for making many jars of sweet jelly.
"We haven't had many sand plums make it for the past few years," said Pratt County Extension Agent and jelly maker Jodi Drake. "This year we have an overabundance. The fruit keeps coming, almost ripening in waves."
Weather conditions earlier this spring were wet and cool, which enabled the wild bushes in Pratt County to set on a maximum number of flowers, which translated into millions of wild plums in the heat of July.
Birds, bugs and wild animals seem to like the sand plums just as much.
"The mosquitoes are bad and you have to watch out for the prickly branches and snakes that might be hiding," Drake said.
Drake, and others interested in making jelly, appreciate the red color and tart flavor that comes as a result of making sand plum jelly.
To make sand plum jelly, cooks cover the fruit in a large pan with an inch of water and boil it for 10 minutes to soften and break open the small plums. The water is saved for later, and the squishy fruit is placed into cheese cloth in a strainer and squeezed so all the juices are collected.
Drake said she puts all of the strained juice and some of the juice from the first boil back into the pan, adds 1/2 teaspoon of butter to keep the foaming down then pectin or SureGel added to a full rolling boil.
"Add the sugar, whatever your recipe calls for, and boil again, until you can't stir it down," Drake said. "Then you just ladle it into clean, sterilized jars, skim off any foam left, and put on the lids."
The last step in making sand plum jelly is an important one, and that is processing the finished and filled jelly jars in a water bath.
"You need to immerse them under 1 inch of water and process at a full boil for at least 10 minutes to kill off any bacteria," Drake said. "Sun canning or just letting the heat seal the jars really isn't a safe way to go about it."
The result of several hours boil, pressing, straining and boiling the sand plums is clear dark pink or red jelly that can be eaten on biscuits, bread, pancakes or saved for the holidays as gifts or something special.
"We love our sand plum jelly around here," Drake said.