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.
BEACH PLUM JELLY
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.