Beach plums (Prunus maritima) are small, native stone fruits that grow wild along the coast from Maryland to Maine. Ripe fruit are picked in late summer, made into purple jelly, and sold locally. Commercialization of the beach plum, like the blueberry, therefore, would appear to be easy, except that yields are not predictable. Even so, around 1938, schemes to improve and elevate the beach plum beyond a simple cottage industry took root in Massachusetts, led by two women independently on Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod. For twenty years, amateur beach plum growers (especially the Cape Cod Beach Plum Growers Association) and horticulturists (from the USDA and the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University) selected, propagated, and grew new varieties with superior fruit. One of these cultivars, called “Autumn,” was touted as an annual bearer of fruit, but it was a false promise. By 1958 the commercialization effort waned. Fortunately, horticulturists are again interested in the beach plum. The Cape May County (New Jersey) Beach Plum Association is planting thousands of beach plum shrubs to hold dunes and to bear fruit, and Cornell University and Seaberry Farm in Maryland are developing niche markets for orchard-grown beach plum products.
Banking on Beach Plums
les garrick lives on Cape Cod, where he supports local farmer's markets, writes about new foods, and helps people plant vegetable gardens. His articles, including one that received a 2008 Eddy award for the best use of recipes, spread awareness about the value of preserving wild beach plum habitat. Garrick is currently at work on a book about beach plums. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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les garrick; Banking on Beach Plums. Gastronomica 1 August 2012; 12 (3): 21–30. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/GFC.2012.12.3.21
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