Beach plum jelly offers shore residents a sweet end to summer

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

It’s a sweet end to the summer for Jersey Shore residents. They’re on a deadline to make hundreds of jars of beach plum jelly.

“People look for it,” said Peggy Trerotola, a volunteer at Friends of Island Beach State Park. “People come waiting for it.”

They sell it every year at the Friends of Island Beach State Park’s annual Beach Plum Festival, which is scheduled for Sept. 9. The nonprofit raises funds for many of the park’s events and conservation efforts.

“Island Beach State Park, it is one of the largest stretches of natural areas along the coast in New Jersey,” said volunteer coordinator Stevie Thorsen.

Thorsen says one of the many treasures here is the beach plum. The plant thrives in the sandy soil.

“Beach Plums are a native shrub that grows along the coast. This is a really great spot for beach plums,” Thorsen said. “It’s almost like a mix between a plum and a strawberry.”

Volunteers usually pick the park’s plums in August and purchase more from farms in Cape May if need be. Then they get to work making jelly. First, they add water to the beach plums and boil it for about 30 minutes. That mixture is poured into a cheese cloth, which is squeezed until clear juice remains.

“We take it. We mix it with sugar. It’s all very scientifically measured out. It’s a chemistry reaction, so it’s not just, ‘throw some sugar, throw some juice.’ Then we boil it, bring it to a hard boil,” Trerotola said.

They mix in a liquid fruit pectin and let that boil for another minute; then skim it, and pour it into hot jars that were just in boiling water. Then, it’s time for the lids. After that the volunteers patiently wait for a pop.

“That’s what seals it. They have a little bump in the middle, and we’ll say we’re getting popping, and it’s ‘pop, pop, pop,'” Trerotola said.

This season, the volunteers started making the jelly in July. They usually work a couple days a week. Last year they made 845 jars and everything sold out. This year they expect to have 700 jars. The amount of jelly all depends on the amount of beach plums available each year.

Some of these volunteers have been making jelly for nearly 20 years.

“Passion comes from seeing the next generation eager to do this — to learn to make this,” said volunteer Rosemary Mason.

These women are dedicated, but also take some time to sit back and simply enjoy their beach plum jelly.