Some people go a bit nutty over beach plums. Like Alex's grandmother—three years ago, when we had the big year, she made over 250 jars of beach plum jelly. This year, she's already up to 192.
Len Campanelli got sucked in last year, and this year, for his stand at the Provincetown Farmers' Market, he's made hundreds of jars. He kind of wishes he had never heard of beach plums some days—making the jelly is a hellish process, he says—but he can't stop. The picking, the boiling, the straining—it's a labor of love. He picks from where he lives in South Dennis all the way out to Provincetown, tasting and refining which berries he takes along the way. A good plum is small and dark, he says, sort of like a big blueberry.
He doesn't let a single bit of the fruit go to waste—after he's strained off the juice for jelly, he pushes the pulp through a colander to make jam. The jam doesn't need quite so much sugar, he says, and it's a bit thicker, which means it takes less time on the stove. The jelly can take up to a week of on and off simmering—turning the burner on low when he's home.
When it comes down to it, it's the tradition of beach plum jelly that keeps him on. The fruit is an indigenous, native plant—Prunus maritima—and preserving it is a way of letting visitors take a little piece of this sandy land home. It's a tradition of remembering—of tucking away those last, short days of Indian summer—to hold on to until next time rolls around.
[If you're into preserves, Alex's grandmother's recipe for beach plum jelly is over here, and I'm posting another one for beach plum jam below. If you're not, there are other options: there's a list of stands and farms and markets that sell beach plum jelly over here.]
BEACH PLUM JAM
This recipe comes from a little cookbook devoted entirely to beach plums—Plum Crazy by Elizabeth Post Mirel. Beach plum jam can be a bit more work than beach plum jelly, but if you tend to like thicker, more robust spreads, you will find there's an excellent reward for your work.
2 cups pitted beach plums
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup orange juice
Cut the beach plums into small pieces. Place the ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the fruit is soft and the liquid is the consistency of a thin syrup. Stir occasionally.
Pour the jam into sterile jars. Seal and leave overnight to cool; the jelly will keep up to a year.
Yield: About 2 cups.