Wednesday, September 17, 2008
This year I actually found and picked my own beach plums! There is something so satisfying about realizing a long held goal, and I have wanted to pick beach plums ever since I first tasted homemade beach plum brandy 18 years or so ago.
Back then I was a waitress at the Hearth ‘N Kettle restaurant in Orleans and a 70 (plus) year old cook named George Tingley brought a bottle of his homemade beach plum brandy to the annual Christmas party. It was the most delicious nectar I had ever tasted. The next day at work, I asked George for the recipe and wrote it down on the back of slip from my dupe pad.
That little slip of paper has been wasting away in my recipe box for all these years. Why, you ask? Simply because I had no idea what an actual beach plum looked like. For some reason, I thought beach plums would be, well, more plum size.
Instead they are somewhere between the size of a large blueberry and a grape. My moment of illumination came while shopping for fresh local peaches at Crow Farm in Sandwich. At the cash register there was a canning jar full of water with a branch sticking out of it and a sign that said, “Beach Plums.”
“That’s a beach plum?” I asked the cashier.
“Sure is,” was her reply.
I didn’t actually have time to go scavaging for my own last year, but just two week later a vendor at the Mid Cape Farmer’s Market in Hyannis was actually selling beach plums and that’s where I learned that they can be either purple or golden, just like real plums. I bought four pints and FINALLY made my long awaited brandy.
We drank beach plum martinis and sipped it straight up from cute little cordial glasses I bought at a thrift store in Harwich. It was a huge hit and my favorite gift to give away last Christmas.
So this year we promised ourselves we would find our own. A few weeks ago the Hubby came home with a gift for me: a book called Plum Crazy that is the beach plum Bible, with everything from the history of beach plums to how to find them to dozens of recipes - including the exact same recipe George gave me all those years ago.
Last Saturday we set out on our quest. This is not a mission for the faint of heart. First of all, beach plums are pretty darn hard to spot. Secondly, they grow in the most obscure and hard to reach places.
After an initial small success (like three dozen plums – think about a half a cup), we hit two dry spots and got more desperate in our search. We trudged through sand and underbrush, trespassed on private property and got rained on. In a particularly difficult spot, after we both acquired some nasty scratches on our legs and arms, the Hubby (who had actually read the book) warned me that perhaps we should have worn long pants because beach plums tend to grow right next to poison ivy. Here's what they look like in the wild:
It was too late to go back and at our next spot, we hit a payload. And then we moved on and found more, and more. Four and a half hours later, we were dirty, injured and triumphant. We had 14 pints of beach plums!
If I had my way, all of those little jewel colored gems would have gone to brandy, but with brandy at close to $20 a bottle, reality set in and we could only afford to make five bottles. That’s two more bottles than last year and actually the scarcity makes it more treasured. We still have a tall jelly jar of last year’s brew that we’re saving to test against the new batch to see how aging affects it and enough left in the last bottle for a few more toasts.
Or perhaps medicinal use. The Hubby, poor man, discovered the truth of that poison ivy warning. His legs and arms are simply COVERED with an itchy rash. Apparently he’s allergic and I’m not, which means this job falls to me next year.
Beach Plum Brandy
2 cups whole beach plums
2 cups sugar
4/5 quart (one bottle) brandy
Pick all stems of beach plums, wash and place single layer on a towel to dry thoroughly. Place all ingredients in a large clean glass jar (a beer growler works well). Cap and shake. Let the mixture stand for two weeks at room temperature, shaking or stirring once a day. Strain the brandy through a tea strainer lined with cheese cloth. Then line a funnel with a coffee filter and strain into a clean jar two or three times until brandy is entirely clear. Replace coffee filter frequently as it clogs easily. Wash the jar each time in between each round of filtering. Store for two or three months.