Our annual beach plum expedition traditionally happens on or close to Labor Day. However, this summer the weather and the other unknown variables that influence beach plums conspired for an early, abundant harvest. Seems that beach plum cultivation has proven difficult, they're temperamental and unreliable. Which, of course, makes them all the more prized.
I've heard talk of pitting the fruit and using it for pies and such, but I can't imagine it. They're generally just a little bit smaller than a regular sized grape and lurking right beneath the surface is a big old pit. So for me, for now at least, jelly is the only way to go.
Beach plums are, well, plummy, but with a pleasing astringency. More so than a cranberry, but then also fruitier than a cranberry too.
We've been out picking two weekends in a row so far, and we're pretty sure there are some more rewarding harvests still to come. More than four dozen jars have been put up. When Christmas rolls around the Beach Plum Jellies are usually held back for our most special friends and family — this year we'll be able to spread the wealth a little further.
Beach plums don't show up on the instructions that come with commercial pectin. Some old-timey recipes maintain that if a third of the fruit used is still green, it will produce enough natural pectin to set the jelly. So I gave that method a shot early on. It was a little heart breaking after all that effort to end up with Beach Plum liquid. With failed jams and marmalades you still have some fruit chunks in there to offer a wisp of hope, a shred of respect, something vaguely recognizable . A clarified juice jelly is just, well, colored syrup. At best. And believe me, unless you're offering home made natural maple syrup hand tapped from trees in your own secret New England location, no one's going to be all that thrilled. That's just the way it is.
So, after you gather your beach plums, the thing to keep in mind is making sure you maintain the correct ratio of fruit juice to sugar to pectin. Through many trials (and plenty of errors) I've come up with a recipe that works consistently.
BEACH PLUM JELLY
1 1/2 gallons (approx) of fresh beach plums — THE GOAL IS 4 CUPS OF PURE, STRAINED BEACH PLUM JUICE.
7 cups sugar
1 package Certo liquid pectin
Wash and pick over the fruit. Discard anything you don't like the look of. The juice is released from the fruit by cooking over a low heat. Lucky for us we have this humongo Crock Pot that will hold 6 quarts of berries, and so let them cook away (on the high setting) overnight, reduces it all into a juicy mess. Alternatively, you can cook the berries in a heavy pot over low heat, crushing them down with a potato masher as you go. This is effective, it just requires a little more attention.
Let your cooked fruit and juice cool, then put through the jelly bag. A lot of juice will drip out, but don't stop there. Squeeze, squash, wring that bag and you'll be very gratified about the additional juice you get.
Mix 4 cups of juice with 7 cups of sugar in a big heavy pot. Be advised that when this comes to a boil it expands quite a lot, so leave yourself plenty of room to avoid boil-overs. Turn the heat to medium-high, stirring occassionally. When the juice and sugar mixture is really roiling, add the package of Certo. The boiling will abate for a moment, then resume. Stir, stir, stir as it boils furiously for 1 minute. Remove from heat.
Use a spoon to skim off any foam, leaving just the clear, garnet colored liquid. Ladle into 1/2 pint jars, seal, and turn each jar over for 5 minutes, then turn right side up again. (Current experts advise a five minute boiling water bath for the jars, but when I started making jams and jellies the "invert for 5 minutes" method was still in favor, so I'm staying old-school on this.)
It will take a few hours for the jelly to fully cool and gel. For peace of mind, don't wash the pot right away. Any remaining jelly in the pot will thicken up rather quickly, assuring that the same miracle will happen in the jars.