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.


Anonymous said...

Gee, they sure look like blueberries to me. When I have picked them, mine were a bit bigger, and a bit more maroon. Have not found any this year, my regular sources are gone. Your blog is terrific. Thanks.

Elspeth said...

Hi Anon,

That is a very big saucepot—maybe 5 gallon?—which might explain why the plums look blueberry size to you. Different bushes have different color plums, though in general I find the darker the sweeter.

Do you live on the Cape? There are tons this year on the dunes on the bay side of Truro.

All the best,

Anonymous said...

My first full year on Cape Cod. I've been foraging and found a hidden source of beach plums. I've canned about 12 pints of jelly and can't wait to hand it out as gifts during the Holidays!

NaturalFiberCrochet said...

Actually 2007 was the best year in decades. This is a very good year not quite the match of 2007.


Lucy said...

The photo shows blueberries, not beach plums.

Joe said...

They are NOT blueberries, they are beach plums, I picked many this year and I am making some as I write, delicious.....thanks for the recipe.

Anonymous said...

Love how everyone's a bloody expert. Actually blah blah was the best year. Ever consider microclimates, etc. Also, yeah anyone who has picked beach plums in any serious amount would know that some look different than others. Like the blog. Keep up the good work. Ignore the other experts who apparently think they know more than you. Probably they don't.

Elspeth said...

Thanks, Anonymous. It is interesting how many different colors there are. I've seen and tasted dark purple, light purple, red, and even golden—all ripe—and all on a single dune in Truro. I think the golden actually have the best flavor when fully ripe, but they're rare.

And microclimates definitely play a role. One year we picked from August thru mid-October in different areas all within a quarter mile of each other!

bunky said...

I just picked what i thought were beach plumbs but they have small seeds in them and not pits
did I pick the wrong thing. Does any one know if they also have small seeds and not pits

Elspeth said...

Based on the time of year, I'd guess those are huckleberries. How big are they?

Donna H. said...

I grew up on Duxbury Beach, and my family has been picking by our house and making Beach Plum Jelly for 4 generations! Our recipe is exactly like the recipe you posted here. And I agree that 2013 was the best year we ever picked. I got about 100 lbs of berries in just a few hours with my children helping. This year I only picked last week because of time constraints, and only got about 4 batches worth.

Thank you for your blog!

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