Prunus Maritina, the American Beach Plum, native to the east coast of the United States, is found in the dunes and sandy lots of our home town. Ripening in early September, the dusky purple fruit, even when fully ripe, is sour and mostly pit – good only for jelly making. When the season produces a good crop, our family all pitches in picking, sorting, stewing, mashing and, the final stage, testing the steaming dark red liquid for the elusive “sheeting off” which portends another batch of jelly ready for the sterilized jars. The satisfying ping of the lids sealing the vacuum proclaims a successful venture that will take us through a winter where this crimson sweet/sour translucence will adorn our biscuits and toast.
On September 11, 2001 we had spent the morning haunted by repetition of falling towers – but the beach plums were waiting. Paul Lewis says, of the jam making cycle, “the jam maker appears to defer impending death…it is a life preserver, a sweet if imperfect antidote to the poison of time.” On that poignant day in early fall, one cycle of doom was interrupted as we turned ripening berries into jelly that even today evokes the sweetness of plums maturing in the salt laden air.