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.

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. 

jelly bag is key.  And if you don't have the rest of the tools that you really should have if you're going to be serious about all this, do get one of the Ball  canning sets. You'll never regret it.

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. 

Prepare your jars and lids — wash and sterilize.

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.

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Written by on August 24, 2010 under ALL RECIPES, Foraging, Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Relish.

  • Punk Domestics

    I'm the founder/moderator for Punk Domestics (, a community site for those of use obsessed with, er, interested in DIY food. It's sort of like Tastespotting, but specific to the niche. I'd love for you to submit this to the site. Good stuff!

  • Punk Domestics

    I'm the founder/moderator for Punk Domestics (, a community site for those of use obsessed with, er, interested in DIY food. It's sort of like Tastespotting, but specific to the niche. I'd love for you to submit this to the site. Good stuff!

  • Spectacularly D.

    Sounds great to me, let's get started!

  • JenSchall

    I recently made plum jam and absolutely loved it… This looks amazing!

  • Spectacularly D.

    It's really good — has a nice tang, kinda like cranberries. We're lucky enough to be able to get the beach plums, they're a real NE coast thing.

  • JenSchall

    I am actually wondering if those are the same plums that I got at a local farmers market a few months ago. Mine were a bit tart and had a cranberry-like taste. They looked much like the plums in your photo. I *thought* they were from a local orchard here in PA, but now I'm not so sure!

  • Sean

    Hmm… wonder about that. BPs are the size of a marble and as far as I know have defied cultivation. An enterprising farmstander could make some coin by picking and selling them though — no overhead, they're free!

  • Drosek

    I will give this a try! So many batches of frustration in the past . . . Do you put any water in the crockpot?

    • Sean

      No, the low, slow heat breaks them down so the juice leaks out before anything scorches or burns. Let me know how it turns out.

  • Drosek

    Sean – I’m hoping it worked! The color is beautiful! The jelly in the pot was a bit thin, so may be I didn’t boil hard enough – we’ ll see! In any case, there’s enough for 8 more 1/2 pints, which I’m hoping to do tomorrow. Will the juice keep in the fridge?

    • Sean

      Juice will keep for sure. Sometimes jams and jellies firm up after a couple of days. As long as it has some wiggle to it and it’s not totally liquid it should work out.

  • Char

    Sean, I made two batches of  beach plum jelly today.  The first turned out to be “syrup” ;), the second is perfect.  The first batch I used 8 cups of juice, 5 cups of sugar (HATE using so much sugar so didn’t do the 7 cups), 1 box of pectin.  Not so good.  Taste is fantastic though.  The second batch I used 8 cups of juice, 5 cups of sugar and 6 TBS low sugar pectin. This turned out beautifully!!  It started to set as I was putting it in the jars.  Taste is wonderful as well.  Thanks for your article. 

    • Sean

      Thanks for the info. BPJ is always dicey. Each year I’m still nervous that it won’t set. Full-out syrup is a drag but hold onto it. It might gel a little bit as it sits in the jar (or maybe the wait gives you faith…) or you can mix it with club soda for a holiday drink. Better than store bought cranberry and oh how impressed everyone will be when you offer them a glass or cocktail with your own homemade soda. The no-sugar pectin used with some sugar seems to be the way to go. Regular pectin is not forgiving when the sugar/liquid volume/acid ratios are played with.

  • Babs

    Have you ever mixed any other fruit with this? I don’t think my two trees will yield that many beach plums…ideas?

    • Sean

      I have fouund apple juice (bottled) to work as a supplemental juice when you to need to increase the amount for a recipe. The other choice would be to scale back the othyer ingredients to match your juice — if you have 1/3 less juice than the recipe calls for, use 1/3 less sugar and 1/2 less pectin. Good luck!

  • jeb

    Do you pit your beach plums before cooking? I didn’t. Does it make a difference? I like the flavor of the jelly that I made with your recipe but the taninny after taste makes me wonder if I made a mistake or is it suppose to be that way?

    • Sean

      I don’t remove the pits before cooking — but stand in awe of those who do! Seems like a lot of work. The slight tannin taste is characteristic of beach plums. I compare them to cranberries, seems like the same kind of sweet/tart yin-yang type of thing.

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