BEACH PLUM SHRUB // the local food report

I'm not sure how to start. Shrub! Woah! Holy discovery. That seems as good an introduction as any.

I don't know if you've had shrub, but it's a colonial soda. It is unlike any soda I've ever tasted before. For starters, it smells like vinegar. You think it's going to taste awful, and then you take a sip, and it's sweet and tangy and delicious. It starts as a syrup—fruit cooked down with sugar and then mixed with vinegar—and originally, it was a way to preserve a glut of fruit for the winter. 

I was introduced to it by Kim Shkapitch, who makes all kinds of preserves. She found out about shrub through old cookbooks, and adapted a recipe she found in a 1934 book called From Cape Cod Kitchens. She's made it with peaches and lavender and even cucumber, but this time of year she likes to use beach plums. They give the syrup a beautiful color, and she uses a white balsamic for the vinegar to keep things light.

In reading up on shrub, I discovered it's making something of a comeback. It fell out of favor with the advent of home refrigeration in the early 1900s, but these days high end restaurants interested in local food are bringing it back to make cocktails. There was a recipe for cucumber shrub this summer in the Boston Globe, and I also found this recipe for a plum shrub cocktail (which would be great with Kim's beach plum shrub, or the recipe below). Fennel-Apple-Rhubarb Shrub sounds pretty amazing, as does the Summer Breeze cocktail that Carey over at Reclaiming Provincial made up to use it. Martha Stewart also put together a gorgeous beet and lemon shrub cocktail, and I am dying to try this peach shrub with bourbon. You see what I mean when I say it's making a comeback.

I decided to look through my old cookbooks and see if I could find any recipes for shrub. I found two—one in an 1860s Virginia manual for housewives, and another in the more modern Plum Crazy from 1973. I'm curious...have you tried it? What do you think?


This recipe comes from The Virginia Housewife, published in 1860 and written by Mary Randolph. For the vinegar, I think a nice red wine vinegar would be nice with the berries. I've typed out an ingredient list but left her original wording.

3 quarts raspberries
1 quart "strong, well-flavoured vinegar" 
granulated sugar, to taste

"Put a quart of ripe red raspberries in a bowl; pour on them a quart of strong well flavoured vinegar—let them stand 24 hours, strain them through a bag, put this liquid on another quart of fresh raspberries, which strain in the same manner—and then on a third quart: when this last is prepared, make it very sweet with pounded loaf sugar; refine* and bottle it. It is a delicious beverage mixed with iced water."

*Refine in this case likely means to strain through cheesecloth, which is what Kim does. She then strains it a second time through unbleached coffee filters to get a very clear syrup.


This recipe comes from Plum Crazy by Elizabeth Post Mirel, published in 1973. Interestingly, the headnote to this recipe says the vinegar odor will dissipate in a few days. I tried Kim's right after she made it, but also brought a bottle home. I opened it today to take the pictures you see up there, and did notice significantly less vinegar smell. Even if you drink it fresh, though, as Mirel notes, "[The vinegar smell] does not affect the extraordinarily refreshing taste of the shrub."

2 cups whole beach plums
2 cups cider vinegar
4 whole cloves
2 cups sugar, approximately

Crush the beach plums in a large bowl with a pestle. Add the vinegar and cloves, cover the bowl, and let sit overnight.

Pour the liquid into a coffee filter cone, supported in a funnel. Filter for 1 hour or until the liquid has dripped out. Being careful not to rip the paper, press the beach plums against the sides of the cone to get out as much liquid as possible. Measure the liquid and pour it into a saucepan. Add an equal amount of sugar. Bring to a boil and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the liquid thickens to a thin syrup. Pour the hot shrub into bottles. Cover and cool, then keep refrigerated.


EGGPLANT MEDLEY // the local food report

I can't grow an eggplant to save my life. But apparently local farmers' aren't having that problem! The other day at the Truro Farmers' market there were all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors. Here's a short guide to what local growers are bringing to market:

Nadia: Traditional black Italian eggplant, 7-8 inches long. Glossy skin with tall, sturdy plants that will fruit under cool conditions. 

Dancer: Light violet Italian type, though thinner than your average globe. Mild, not bitter. Strong plants with high yield. 

Galine: Classic bell-shaped Italian variety. Produces early and dependably, even in the north! Large fruit, averaging about one pound each. 

Casper: Snow white inside and out. Italian variety that does well in northern climates and produces early. Fruit is generally 5-6 inches long. 

Black Beauty: An heirloom introduced by Burpee in 1902. Italian style, very early. Best harvested fresh. 

Nubia: Gorgeous! Purple and white striped Italian type eggplant. On the smaller side. Late yielding in the north. 

Fairy Tale: Tender, plum, sweet little Italian-style eggplants. Same variegation as the Nubias—violet and white stripes. Great for growing in containers.

Long Purple: Asian variety, long and thin—8 to 10 inches. Beautiful dark purple skin. Sweet!

Orient Express: Long, thin dark purple—8-10 inches. Asian type with very glossy skin. Tender, delicate, and thin-skinned for fast cooking.

Gretel: A tiny white eggplant. The plant fruits in clusters and is very compact. Another good variety for growing in containers!

And finally, a recipe for eggplant caponata. Many of the growers told me they like Asian style eggplants best for this kind of recipe. The skins are thin, and they break down faster than the skins of the Italian style eggplants. But for grilling, you want a nice, thick globe eggplant—something like Black Beauty or Nubia. The season should last til mid-October, unless we get an early frost. Enjoy!


Caponata is a classic sweet and sour Italian eggplant dip. It's excellent spread on pieces of good, crusty bread. A note for your shopping list—6 ounces of olives is a lot! Make sure you look at the weight on the jar. This recipe is adapted from one I found on the Saveur website.

3 cups olive oil
2 pounds eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 rib celery, trimmed and chopped
fine grain sea salt and pepper to taste
1 and 1/2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
6 ounce chopped green olives
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup capers 
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup finely chopped basil
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Warm up the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large heavy pot. Add the eggplant and fry, stirring often, until golden brown. Put a colander over a bowl and pour the oil and eggplant into the colander. Set aside. 

Return 1/4 cup of the olive oil to the pot. Turn the heat back onto medium, add the onion and celery and salt and pepper to taste, and fry until soft and golden. Next add the tomatoes, turn the heat down to low, and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until they thicken up. Add the olives, vinegar, raisins, capers, sugar, and chocolate. Simmer for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick. Turn off the heat, stir the eggplant back in, and transfer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with basil and pine nuts and serve with warm crusty bread.



Note from the Sudden Realization Department, received just a few days ago as I was sipping my morning coffee, listening to NPR and the pelting rain, and chopping almonds to make homemade granola: Is it really possible that Elspeth hasn't shared this recipe here? We've been making it since before she was born; our girls were raised on this granola. I took a quick look at the Recipe Archive and then phoned Wellfleet. Suspicions confirmed. "Do it, Mom!" said Elspeth. 

In a world full of unhealthy granola recipes, this one is a gem. Have you looked at other granola recipes? Most have a staggering amount of sugar, and many are also high in saturated fats. They might be fine for sprinkling atop some fruit and yogurt once in a while, but they aren't anything you should be eating by the bowlful every day. I want to make granola that's actually good for us, that we can eat every day, and I think this one qualifies. 

We're lucky to be able to make our granola with Maine-grown, organic oats, available both at our local natural foods store and online. They come from northernmost Maine. "Oats thrive in Maine's cool climate and are a traditional rotation crop for Aroostook County potatoes," say Jim and Megan Gerritsen of Wood Prairie Farm. I love the fact that I'm not only getting a great product from them but that I'm also supporting a Maine farm.

I make this recipe every few weeks, and it's never exactly the same. I vary the sweetener—it might be brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, or molasses, depending on my mood. I also vary the nuts. Recently I've been chopping up whole almonds, which I love. It looks like Sally does too: that's what was in the batch I brought when we visited a few weeks ago.

If you don't like the coconut called for here, just swap in more oats, or use something entirely different. Our friend Chuck uses All Bran cereal or sunflower seeds, and another friend uses flax seed. However you make it, I hope you like it. Packaged it in a nice Mason jar or other container, this also makes a nice house gift or present.


I always double this recipe, and I bake it in two pans. I used to triple the recipe, which was great for efficiency—both my own and the oven's—but the granola doesn't get as dry that way. It took me more years than it should have to discover that the secret to making great granola is getting it nice and dry.

5 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup oat bran or wheat germ
1 cup unsweetened coconut (I use organic)
1 to 2 cups chopped walnuts—or other nuts
1/4 to 1/2 cup brown sugar—or other sweetener (I use 1/4 cup and find that's plenty)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon maple flavor (or almond flavor, if you use almonds for the nuts)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup raisins (optional)

In a large baking pan, mix the dry ingredients together and stir well (your hands will work best for this). In a large measuring cup, mix together the olive oil, sweetener if it is liquid (i.e., honey, maple syrup, or molasses), flavoring, and vanilla, and then drizzle this over the dry ingredients. Stir everything again, so it is well mixed. If you're doubling the recipe, pour half of the granola into another baking pan, so you have a thinner layer that will dry out more thoroughly as it bakes. Bake at 225° F. for about 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. If you're using the raisins, stir them in about halfway through the baking; they tend to burn if added sooner.

Cool the granola completely and then put it in tins, glass containers, or zip-lock bags. It will keep in the freezer for months.


BEACH PLUM JELLY // the local food report

Timothy Sayre's family has been making beach plum jelly the same way since 1932. That's when his grandmother put out eight jars of wild beach plum jelly at his grandfather's farmstand on Route 6, just down the road from where Briar Lane Jams and Jellies stands in Wellfleet today. That was before the highway came through and the land was taken by eminent domain. 

Back then, the farm stand was by Moby Dick's. The barn was where the blinking light is, and the family still owned the property they later gifted to the health clinic. Esther and Leroy Wiles sold fresh milk and fruits and vegetables by the roadside, and starting in 1932, they added beach plum jelly to the list. Leroy picked and Esther canned the juice to put up for the quiet winter months, when she had plenty of time to open the jars, add sugar, and make jelly.

These days the going rate for beach plums is $2.50 a pound. Timothy and his wife Terri buy a whole range of colors—reds, purples, goldens, indigo blues. They use an oak press to crush the fruit and drain the juice, and then they can it the same way Esther did. They use glass jars because it preserves the taste, Timothy says. 

Then they add sugar and simmer the juice until the mixture gets thick—you can tell it's ready when the jelly comes off the spoon in a sheet, or when a little bit cooled on a plate feels springy and gelatinous. They make small batches—16 or 20 jars, eight ounces each. They pour and cap and seal by hand, which makes for hot work on late summer days. Their daughter Amber works the front of the stand, and she makes four generations.

Timothy didn't share his recipe with me, so I can't offer you their secrets. But I can offer you mine, the ones I inherited from Alex's grandmother. In a good year, she'd make 250 jars. She passed away this January, and this is the best beach plum year in decades. I have to wonder if Hami has something to do with it. 


This recipe is adapted from the one Alex's grandmother passed down to me. If you don't have time to make jelly when you pick the fruits, you can make the juice and freeze it until you're ready. This is also a good trick for spreading out the jelly in between years of plenty. It makes 7 or 8 (8-ounce) jars.

8 heaping cups beach plums
1 cup water
6 cups sugar
3 ounces liquid pectin

In a large soup pot, cook the beach plums and the water over medium-high heat until the fruit is soft. Set a large mixing bowl underneath a colander and pour the hot juice through, straining out the pits and skins. (Some people say to use cheesecloth, but Alex's grandmother says she never bothers, and her jelly always turns out just fine.)

Measure out 4 cups of beach plum juice. Rinse out the pot and pour in the juice with the sugar. Heat the mixture over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved, and bring it to a rolling boil. Add the pectin and bring the mixture back to a boil for 1 minute. Remove the jelly from the heat and pour it into sterilized jars. Store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.



I would like to pause the season. Yesterday: an early morning walk to Bound Brook. An empty beach, skinny-dipping in the bay. The walk home: Sally naked with her shoes on, Fisher trailing, sniffing. Clear skies and a perfect 73 degrees. A look around the garden—arugula ready for harvest, tomatoes littering the ground. Sally crawling in to get them, through the cages and beneath the tangle of green. And lunch, another stunner of a recipe from Ottolenghi's Plenty

We started with the eggplant sauce. Sally sat on the kitchen floor eating cherry tomatoes straight from the colander while I chopped. We fried eggplant cubes in olive oil, added tomatoes and white wine and oregano, a pinch of salt and another pinch of sugar. We simmered.

While the sauce got thick we started the polenta—cut the kernels from 6 ears of corn. I put the kernels in a pot and covered them with water while Sally picked up the ones that fell on the floor, and we took the silk and cobs and husks out to the compost. When the corn was soft, we got out the immersion blender. We pureed until it turned into a smooth, runny sauce, then put it back on to simmer. We cooked it down and down until it got thick like mashed potatoes, then stirred in feta and butter and salt to taste. 

We sat down together to big, steaming bowls of corn topped with eggplant. It was one of the best things I've had in weeks—rich but not overdone, full of fresh, bright flavors. The polenta was billowy, almost like pudding, and the eggplant sauce gave it texture and cut the sweetness of the corn. It was comfort food at its best—the first taste of longer nights and cooler days.


The texture of the corn polenta is much more similar to mashed potatoes than traditional polenta. It's also lighter than polenta made with dried corn—more water and less starch. Ottolenghi says it tastes like baby food in the best sense of the words, and he's right. It's rich and comforting, and with the eggplant sauce strikes the perfect balance of savory and sweet. This recipe serves 4.

for the eggplant sauce:

2/3 cup olive oil
1 medium eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch dice
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

for the polenta:

6 ears corn, husked
2 and 1/4 cups water
3 tablespoons butter
7 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

First make the eggplant sauce. Warm up the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the eggplant and fry for 15 minutes, until the cubes take on a nice golden hue. Position a colander over a bowl, dump in the oil and the eggplant, and let the oil drain out. Set it aside for another frying project, or for dipping with toast. 

Return the eggplant to the pan and turn the heat back to medium. Add the wine and simmer 1 minute, then add the tomatoes, salt, sugar, and oregano. Simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes, until you get a nice thick sauce. 

Meanwhile, start the polenta. Put the corn and water in a medium saucepan and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and puree the corn andn water using an immersion blender or food processor. Be sure to process for a while so that the kernel cases break down as much as possible. Return the corn paste to the pot and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the mixture thickens and gets a consistency like mashed potatoes. Stir in the butter, feta, and salt and cook another 2 minutes. 

Spoon the eggplant sauce into bowls and top with warm eggplant sauce. Salad makes a nice accompaniment.


ZUCCHINI PARM // the local food report

"Sauce. Zucchini. Sauce. Parm." Victoria makes layering motions with her hands as she talks. She points to the squash that she grew—the Eight Ball and the One Ball—hybrids from a farm in Colorado that specializes in breeding these sorts of things. Cucurbits, they call them. They are summer squash, like zucchini, but perfectly round. 

And this is how she eats them. Thick homemade sauce. Good grated Parmesan. Thin slices, on the round, floured and dipped in egg batter. Fried in coconut oil, or lard. She's Italian, and this is her family recipe for Zucchini Parmesan. I wish I had a picture for you, something of the finished product, but we ate it so fast last night I forgot to take a shot. It is that good. So while the season lasts, enjoy.


Victoria is Italian by descent. She says you can make this recipe with either summer squash or eggplant; both work equally well. That said, it's a good way to use up a motherlode of zucchini. 

6-8 tablespoons olive oil, coconut oil, butter, or lard
2 medium size summer squash, cut into 1/8-inch rounds
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 eggs
a dash of water
fine grain sea salt and pepper to taste
2 cups thick tomato sauce, preferably homemade
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large ball mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Warm up 1-2 tablespoons lard or whatever fat you choose in a large frying pan over medium heat. Put the flour in a shallow bowl. Whisk together the eggs, a dash of water, and the salt and pepper in another shallow bowl. Dip each squash slice first in flour, then in the egg wash and fry until golden brown on both sides. You will only be able to fit a few squash rounds at a time in the pan, so you'll need to add more fat as you run low.

Get out a 9-inch pie plate or casserole dish. Spoon a bit of sauce on the bottom, then put on a layer of zucchini. Add 1/3 of the ricotta, a bit of Parm, then sauce, then zucchini again. Continue layering like this until you run out of squash and cheese. Top the dish with a bit of sauce and all of the mozzarella. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese starts to bubble. Turn the oven to broil and broil for 2-5 minutes, until the mozzarella is golden brown. Let rest 10 minutes, then serve. 



Two pears. One Sally size, one mama size. Thank you for this fruit, and for September. A happy Labor Day to you, my friends. We did it! Yes, we did it, another summer come and gone.


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.