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How to Pit Plums for Jam and Sauce

Well, there I stood, picking away at the mess in my colander.  I had boiled the plums as the recipe said, and then strained them through a colander to get the pits out, as the recipe had said.  The trouble was that a good deal of plum was left with the pits and it was impossible to separate them, although I was trying.

Miss 14 came to the rescue.*  She looked at the mess in my colander and at the next pan of simmering plums. Then she picked up the slotted metal spoon lying on the stove and got to work. 

She skimmed some of the pits out of the simmering plum mixture, rattled them on the slotted spoon with a few flicks of her wrist, and soon had clean pits in the spoon with all the good stuff left behind in the pan.  We experimented with a few more ideas and by the end of our bushel of plums had discovered the easiest way to pit plums for jam and sauce:

  1. Wash the plums.
  2. Bring to a boil at moderate heat with just enough water to prevent sticking.  I used one cup of water in a large soup pan, but could have gotten by with ½ cup.  Simmer until the plums are cooked.
  3. When the skins are beginning to split, use a hand mixer to break up all the plums.  I did it right in the pan while they were simmering.  Note that I used a hand-held mixer on low speed, not a hand blender.
  4. Take a metal slotted spoon and skim some pits out of the plum mixture.  Shake the slotted spoon a bit until all the plum falls through the slots back into the pan.   Usually only the clean pits will remain on the spoon.  Occasionally we needed to help the process along by cleaning the plum pulp off a pit or two using another spoon. (If you need to do this too often, the plums haven’t cooked long enough.)
  5. Continue until you’ve gotten all of the pits out.  Miss 14 was careful and precise and got them all out in record time.  When it was my turn, I removed as many pits as possible, but still felt more comfortable pouring the cooked plums through a colander just to be sure they were all out.  Yes, removing the pits this way takes time, but not nearly as much time as the colander method.  Our method saved us hours as well as a huge amount of aggravation, to say nothing of the extra plum sauce that did not get wasted.
  6. Use the cooked and pitted plums in your recipe and enjoy.

In conclusion, if your recipe says to remove pits from plum sauce by pouring it through a colander or a sieve, think twice.  This week we made large amounts of plum jam (14 pints, 12 ½ pints) and plum sauce (15 quarts, 10 pints), and we’ve come to the conclusion that the slotted spoon method works much better, saving time, plums, and stress.

*Miss 14 insists that I developed this method.  I suppose she is right, but I didn’t believe it would work; she was the one who proved that it would, so a lot of the credit goes to her.

Linked to Better Mom Monday, Encourage One Another Wednesday, Women Living Well Wednesdays, Works For Me Wednesday , Raising Homemakers, Simple Lives Thursday, and Frugal Friday.


  1. JoAnn says:

    Those are some great tips. I’ve never worked with plums before, but I will remember this if I do. Thanks for sharing them. 🙂

    1. CRYSTAL HART says:

      Works great! Thank You!

      1. Fawcett Moore Pamela says:

        Me too! No way could I pit those tiny plums any other method. In no time we had 15 cups of pulp enough for three batches of jam!

  2. Jenn says:

    My grandma makes a wonderful plum preserve. I will find out how she deals with this issue and if she hasn’t tried the slotted spoon, I shall tell her about it!

  3. Nuala says:

    Hi would this method work for cherrys

    1. Annie Kate says:

      I don’t know, but I think it would.

      My sister-in-law puts the cherries on top of a bottle, one by one, and jabs the pits into the bottle. I think she uses a pen lid for that, but I don’t recall. She did not want to cook the cherries, so my method didn’t work for her.

      1. Annie Kate says:

        Now that we have a bumper crop of cherries ourselves, we are using a paperclip to pull the pits out. If we wanted to boil them I would try the slotted spoon method, though.

  4. Jaime says:

    Dang. If only I’d found this *before* I spent most of the day removing pits from 16 lbs of plums by hand, one at a time. Genius! I definitely know what I’m doing with the other 16 lbs tomorrow!

  5. […] chore, please use care when slicing. Optionally, you could try Annie Kate’s method of pitting plums. It looks easy to do though I haven’t given it a try […]

  6. janet macklin says:

    I have made two batches of plum jam this year and this is what I did to get the stones out. I went to the hardware store and looked for any container with holes just a bit smaller than the stones. The item I chose was actually a square plastic laundry peg basket with holes at the side and bottom. Worked a treat, letting all the nice plummy jam through but not the stones.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Brilliant, Janet! It sounds like you cooked the plums first and then put them through the basket, right? Thanks for sharing.

  7. Megan says:

    This seems like a silly question, but for making plum jam or the like do you need to take the skins off first? Seems like this trick would be great if I could throw them in whole and the skins wouldn’t be a problem.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      We don’t take the skins off, but our plums are not large so the skins are hardly noticeable.

      Whether or not to throw the plums in whole does depend to some extent on the kind of cook you are. If you want to have prize-winning jam or sauce, you’ll need to peel them. If you just want something yummy and don’t mind a wee bit of extra texture, throw them in whole and save yourself hours of work.

      1. Horace says:

        The skins contain the bulk of the pectin which sets the jam – you won’t get prizes if you leave the skins out of the recipe

  8. Ellen Pearson says:

    Once you’ve skimmed the pits out, you can just blend the plums–skins and all–in heavy duty processor. With thorough mixing, there’s no detectable texture or lumps, but you end up with slightly more product, and a more nutritious one, too.

  9. nichole fant says:

    I know this was a couple years ago… but could you clarify the cooking process? Could I put a gallon of tiny plums in a pot & just a tiny bit of water in the bottom? Does that work?

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Sorry I did not see this question sooner, Nicole!
      Yes, it should work as long as there is enough water so that the plums won’t stick–that is really the only reason for adding water.

  10. Kari says:

    Bless you for posting this!!

  11. Dana Hodge says:

    Has anyone tried a pressercooker??

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Hi Dana, I have never tried a pressure cooker because we don’t have one. I’d be concerned about not being able to stir while the plums cook, but I don’t know enough about pressure cooking to know if that is a valid concern.

      If you try it, please let us know how it went.

    2. Angie says:

      I just tried it, worked awesome! I did about 13 cups of small plums with two cups water for 15 min on high (I have a Ninja Foodi) Do NOT release the pressure right away (that was a mess!) Let it sit for about 10 min or so. Had 10 cups before processing through the food mill.

      1. Annie Kate says:

        Hi Angie,
        Thanks for the tip about the Ninja Foodi. I’m so glad you were able to use this method–such a time-saver! Enjoy your plums!

  12. DeeJay says:

    This method makes sense. I suppose it might also make sense to count the plums as they go into the pot, then see that the pit count after cooking matches up…but I am always multitasking in the kitchen, and might not remember to do it. 😉 I was church lady-gifted with a mixture of plums that are not all equally ripe, so some sorting is called for. She showed up for choir with at least ten pounds of plums, and says she has 6 trees, so there will be more. Italian plum type. I have access to red plums later, although I have to drive a bit to get them, so have to be going that direction for other reasons to justify the gas cost.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Oh DeeJay, I would never be able to manage to count the plums either. 🙂
      Life is just too busy for that.

      But if you are worried about having pits in your sauce, it makes sense to quickly send the sauce through a large mesh of some sort. I have a steamer basket that I use for blanching beans that would work for this as well.

  13. Sue Hunt says:

    My rough guide for making any jam is a pound of sugar to a pound of fruit whatever it is. As for bigger things like plums, I slit them first before putting into the pan and enough water to wet the bottom of the pan to stop them sticking, this water will reduce down in the cooking so don’t worry too much about it not balancing with the sugar. I do not use preserving sugars either, I find its a rip off price wise, I make sure I use cane sugar it works better than sugar beet sugar, if you think you are going to be short on pectin which is the natural setting agent, then either put a bottle of pectin into the mixture after you have taken it off the heat after the jam is cooked or I usually put a plenty of lemon juice in the pan with the fruit, sometimes with plum jam I put the stones into a muslin cloth and hang into the pan tied to the handle, they are rich in pectin.
    I am 71 and have been making jams and marmalades nearly all my life and only one failure right at the start of my jam making and I cooked one far too much hoping for a good set, at that time I didn’t know how to test for one, and I nearly had to chip the jar off around the jam it was rock hard,beyond being retrieved as well. My Mother in law who taught me laughed so much she nearly fell off her chair and said you will learn, I sure did. I have just made a batch of beautiful Strawberry jam which I am proud if, it’s the plum one tomorrow.

    1. Thank you for this detailed information, Sue! I did not know that plum pits are rich in pectin, but that is a good thing to keep in mind.

      It’s inspiring to hear from someone who’s been making jams her whole life long and is still doing it. Thank you!

  14. DarcyD. says:

    Just used this method…BRILLIANT! I might add that, being lazy, I didn’t both using the mixer and it still worked. I was using Damson plums with those clinging pits, so if it worked with Damsons it should work with any plums. Thank you!

    1. Great! That’s good to know. 🙂

  15. Pam says:

    I’m going to try this technique using my instapot. I have 14 lbs. of Cherry Plums Wish me luck!!

    1. Annie Kate says:

      That’s a creative idea! I hope it went very well. I’ve heard instapots can be used for many things, but I never thought of making jam in them. I would be interested in knowing how it went.

  16. Karen says:

    Instead of using the stove top, I bake the plums in the oven on a low heat-325. No stirring needed. I bake until the plums are soft and then remove the pits. Easy! I discovered this method while processing plums and tomatoes-it brings out good flavors in the fruit and saves me from standing over a hot stove!

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Brilliant! Do you add water to the pan or just bake them without?

  17. Thanks for this. I just tried Annie Kate’s method, and ended up getting out a basket-type strainer with 1/4-1/2 inch mesh. Then I used the spoon to fish the pits out of the basket. I’m still going to run all through the. Maybe my plums were a bit thick. I did use my hand mixer to break them up. I don’t know if immersion blender would work also. I’d post a picture, but I don’t see a way to do that here.
    I use unsweetened plum sauce in a recipe for applesauce bread, and it tastes better than using applesauce. Counting plums would not work — way too many. These are shiro plums, small yellow with very clingy pits that are a pain to de-pit the regular way.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      I’m glad it worked for you, Linnea.

      I suspect using an immersion blender would be a problem because it might crack the pits, but I don’t know. If you ever try it, I’d love to hear about that.

      Thanks for the suggestion to use plum sauce instead of applesauce in baking. That’s a great idea!

      1. I just did this again, using exactly the method you described. I’d forgotten I’d done it and even commented on it 3 years ago. We had no plums last year and maybe none the year before either with early frosts. I was glad to see the instructions for measuring the ratio of fruit to sugar 1 pound-1pound, as this year I’m going to make jam.

  18. Jill says:

    Thank you your wonderful tips!! The plums on my tree are smaller than previous years and I was not looking forward to deseeding them at all. So, in the pot they will go seeds and all!!! Just a quick question at what stage do you add the sugar?

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Sorry for the late reply, Jill.

      I just prepare the plums as mentioned above and then add the sugar after. That seems to work well.

  19. Vicky says:

    This worked so well, thanks for sharing your method. I was dreading preparing my plums but this was so easy and much faster than I have experienced in the past.

  20. Anne A. says:

    I had a sink full of fresh Santa Rosa plums and the thought of trying to pit them was too much. I used your hint about boiling them and then used my wok spoon with the wire mesh to scoop and strain. I was able to use a regular table spoon to stir and separate the pits and stems very quickly and have a thickened base of the skin and pulp. My jam turned out fabulous and I was able to make 2 full batches faster than I would have made one before. Using this idea on the apricots and nectarines too! Thanks

    1. Annie Kate says:

      I’m so glad you found this method and that it’s helping you make jam faster than before! Wonderful. I suppose it would work with all such fruits, so using it on apricots and nectarines is brilliant.

  21. Elaine Y says:

    Thanks for this article. We have a Shiro plum tree with many ripe, golden plums. Their skins almost slip off (it’s a very drippy plum by nature, great for jams) but their pits hold on for dear life. In the past, we removed the flesh arduously by hand. Sticky, time-consuming, and always feels like I’m wasting the flesh. The colander with the rotating blade that we’ve used for deskinning tomatoes doesn’t work (the pits get lodged under the blade). So I’ll be intrigued if plums with pits like this work with this method. A previous commenter claimed it worked on a similar style plum. I’ll give it a shot!

  22. Elaine V says:

    We used this method last night! It is fantastic!!!
    My husband used to faithfully pit the plums for me after waiting for them to be very ripe. It is time consuming and messy.
    He loved this method! No waiting for the plums to be squishy.
    I made the jam today and it looks and tastes the same as my longer double boil process. Can’t thank you enough!

  23. Jamma says:

    We have used this method the last couple years, it is a great way. Well, this year my husband suggested using the apple corer, the one that slices the apples into 8ths and removes to core, worked fantastic!!! He put a plum on a plate, lined the corer up, pressed down and the plums were sliced and pitted in one motion. Was much faster, was able to save the juice and add to cut fruit. Plums are simmering now to break down and we are waiting for the jars to finish their cycle in the dishwasher, then jamming time. We have about 5 batches to make. Yum!!

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