As is tradition in our collective family, we went camping for “birthday week.” I guess it has been a while since we’ve camped at Cape Cod, what with a global pandemic and high anxiety and all, but this year we were able to make it back for a visit.
The campground we like to visit is definitely American-style, meaning lots of immobile campers, built-on porches, full gardens, bathrooms, on-site laundry; still, we’re able to get some fresh, salty air, meandering wooded strolls, and most importantly a little purposeful disconnect, even if others don’t.
We got a spot near to the walking path to the beach, which was nice. The pathway is lined with Pitch Pine, huckleberry bushes (picked clean by probably both birds and mammals alike), boletes, mosses and other ground fungus. It’s just lovely.
The path leads out to a paved bike path, which runs right to the driveway to the beach. The path entrance is flanked with two giant beach plum bushes, full and heavy with fruit. Past the trailhead, the dunes are covered in beach roses which have replaced petals with glorious, bulbous hips as big as ping pong balls. And nestled between two short dunes, we found an apple tree wider than it is tall, stumped by winds with apples the size or grocery store fruit. Unbelievable.
It’s early in the season for such gifts. The ripe plums were sweet and glorious with a nicely bitter skin, but the fruit ripens in stages, and it appears that this is the beginning stage as there were far more unripe fruit than ripe. It makes the treat all much more wonderful, really. The rosehips looked perfect, but they’ll be plentiful like this for a while (recalling that we were finding them as late as mid-October last year), so there was no hurry to take any right now. The apples were a little bland and starchy, yet comfortable and familiar. We collected a small amount of plums and apples to make a jam.
Both plums and apples are heavy in pectin, so I washed and removed the stems to about 1qt of plums to two apples and cooked on low until the skins loosened from the pits. Then I ran it all through a food mill and used water to further separate the pulp from the pits and skins. Remember, the apples weren’t quite ripe, so the very unripe parts didn’t break down so easily.
Later, I collected the pits from the mash for my cherry pit pillow. I figure since plums are related to cherries, and the pits are about the same size as a cherry pit, that I can add to my collection. Side note: I think I have enough to make a pillow for this winter, but I’ll write something up about that later.
I then cooked the sauce down to make about 1.25pints of a loose jam. I think I could cook more water off to make it thicker, and I might just do that, but for now it’s sort of a thick, tart sauce. I’d say I started out with about a quart of liquid (about a pint or so? of solids and added water to rinse/ remove flesh). I added about a half cup of sugar, and it’s just the right kind of sweetness for my tastes because I like very tart things. Most of the recipes I saw suggested 1:1 sugar to fruit, and I find that to be entirely too much sugar.
In any case, I didn’t collect enough fruit to go through a canning process. I just wanted a little bit for the late summer, but not to necessarily preserve.
I’d like to take a day trip back up around wild cranberry season, which I think coincides with the end of wild plum season, but, you know, I get lazy or caught up in other projects, so I just hope I don’t forget.
Anyway, this plum jam sauce was a joy to find and make. It’s a tasty reminder of days wandering through woods, sand, and surf, observing the gifts nature provides when we look; of long conversations under the stars waiting for meteors; of salty breezes and campfire smoke, and all the wonders of time away.
I’ll bet those memories are delicious on pancakes.