Today I joined Doris and Edith and went 'plum crazy', just like the quarter board on the little house says. I'd been thinking about it for quite some time. Two years ago there was a dearth of fruit and last year when the Braintree addition was being built we didn't get down to Nantucket. This was the year though, when I finally made my own beach plum jelly.
The whole beach plum thing starts off with anticipation, catching the first view of green plums hiding in the bushes along the dirt road. On later visits to the island, they turn red and stop hiding. But it's when they turn purple and almost fall off the bushes into your hand, that they're ready to be picked and boiled down for juice to make into a sweet sour beach plum jelly. When it gets a little late in the season, finding the ripe plums takes some determination. You've got to be willing to step into the undergrowth and push aside branches with utter disregard for the bright red poison ivy leaves that seem to pop up right by the best clusters of fruit. Sometimes you even find the golden colored beach plums, a different variety that loses its unique color when it disappears into the pot with the purple ones. Maybe some year there'll be enough to make a golden jar all its own.
For boiling down the berries into juice, I find the directions I'd copied from Peter's Aunt Doris years ago in an old recipe file. The way the plums pop open in the pot reminds me of making cranberry chutney, and the same bright red juice stains my wooden spoon and makes a mess of the countertop. I like the feeling it gives me, of being connected to the past and of closeness to jelly making aunts and moms before me.
For the next step though, I shift into the present and check out the faq's for Sure-Jell. At least I don't opt for the quick and easy 30-minute method, and instead choose the traditional cooked method. There's a lot of stirring and listening to the Indigo Girls and finally I achieve the 'rolling boil' that can't be stirred down. With that, the sugar is added, there's one more minute of boiling, and I pour out the garnet colored juice to cool into shimmering jelly. Tomorrow I'll have my first toast test.