The good news about two of the most popular seaside plants, Rosa rugosa (beach roses) and Prunus maritima (beach plums) is that you don’t have to live on the water to grow your own. They do very well when planted near salt water but both can be successfully grown inland. Neither the plums nor the roses need a lot of care. They both survive in less than optimal sun and soil conditions and they offer fruit that can be used to make jelly, jam, preserves, syrup, marmalade, tea and wine. Common in shore areas, beach roses and beach plums grow in the sand. When beach plums are planted in better, nutrient rich soil, their growth and yields are vastly improved. When soil conditions improve for beach roses, they outcompete other plants for space and are considered by some gardeners to be noxious weeds.
The beach rose is native to China, Japan and Korea and was introduced to America in the mid-l800s, probably by the English, most rose enthusiasts agree. The roses made it to Nantucket by 1899. The beach rose has heavily textured leaves and somewhat wrinkled petals that range in color from pink to white, yellow, peach, red, burgundy, burnt orange, russet, violet or bicolor. Rose breeders value the disease resistance and hardiness of the beach rose and use it to hybridize other roses.
If the withered summer blooms are left on the rose bush, in the late summer rose hips will form where the next roses would have appeared. The berry size rose hips can be used when ripe to make tea, jelly or jam. They will be sweeter if you wait until after the first frost to pick them. The rose hips are actually seed pods and are not only edible, they have a delicate apple flavor, being related to the apple and crabapple fruits.
Beach plums have been in the country for a long time. Giovanni da Verrazano reported seeing beach plums in 1524 on a trip to America. Sailing his ship, the Half Moon, up the Hudson River toward Albany in 1609, Henry Hudson saw and wrote about the beach plums growing along the banks of the River. The beach plum is a perennial, growing in the sand, only inches taller than your Topsiders, and also growing as shrubs anywhere from three feet to twelve feet tall. Planting them inland in better soil can bring them up to 16 to 18 feet tall. The plums are connected by a network of roots that are often part of a root system that extends further from the shrubs that you see. With their elaborate root systems, beach plums help stabilize the sand in coastal areas.
Before the small green leaves emerge in the spring, there are white flowers that, after pollination by bees or the wind, turn a pale pink. You can tell by the number of blossoms in May whether late summer will bring a bumper crop of plums or not enough to risk getting poison ivy. The fruit, about the size of a cherry, starts out green, turns white, then a pale pink, a darker pink, an almost blue color, and when fully ripe, turns a dark purple. As the beach plum heads for full ripeness, it loses its natural pectin. The fully ripe plum can be eaten but if you use it to make jelly or jam, you will need to add a commercial pectin such as Certo.
Beach plums and beach roses can be found at West Meadow Beach on L.I. Sound in Setauket. In Amagansett, beach plums are off the back roads and at Sailors Haven on Fire Island, beach plums are close to the dunes. In New Jersey, Sandy Hook and Island Beach State Park are areas that have beach plums. All locations have poison ivy growing close to the beach plums
If you want to pick beach plums without the threat of poison ivy or birds, deer or other pickers getting there first, beach plum plants are available to buy and plant at home from Bayport Flower Houses in Bayport, NY (631)472-0014 and L.I. Natives in Eastport (631)801-2815. Beach plums and beach plum jelly are sold by Briermere Farms in Riverhead (631)722-3931. Beach plum jam and jelly are also sold by Joan Bernstein in Center Moriches (631)878-0619. Rosa rugosa, the beach rose plants, are sold by Gurney’s Seed & Nursery in Indiana (513)351-1491 and NativeHills.com in Nebraska 1(888)864-7663. In New Jersey Jalma Farms (609)412-3123 sells beach plum jelly and syrup at several locations. One of their outlets is the Tuckerton Seaport Gift Shop (609)296-8868.
For the person who has the competitive urge, there are two venues that judge jams, jellies, preserves and marmalades on Long Island. The Riverhead Country Fair, on October 8, 2017, has a homemaking competition for cooking and baking. The Old Bethpage Village Restoration has a culinary arts competition for jelly, jam, preserves and marmalades. Their Fair dates this year are September 16, 17, 23 and 24.
If you’ve never done this before, there are video tutorials and You Tube pictures of how to put it all together. If you’d like a closer look at how all this works, there’s a Beach Plum Festival every year at Island Beach State Park in New Jersey. This year’s Festival date is September 10th at the Ocean Bathing Area 1 from 9 to 4. There will be vendors, beach plum picking, a jelly making demonstration, food and entertainment.
If you decide to pick or buy plums, make jelly or jam and try to win a ribbon and prize at Riverhead or Bethpage, the following beach plum recipes have won blue, red and white ribbons continuously from the mid-1990s to 2014.
BEACH PLUM JELLY
4 Cups prepared juice
7-1/2 Cups sugar
1 Pouch Certo
You need about 4 pounds of plums to get 4 cups of juice. Use 2 pounds that are fully ripe and 2 pounds that have not reached the dark purple color but are a deep pink or red. Put the plums in the sink and wash them thoroughly and take the stems off. Figure out how many jars you will need, wash them, then put them in a big pot on the stove and keep them hot. Wash the lids and put them in a smaller pot Bring the beach plums to a boil in 2-1/2 cups of water and then simmer for about 30 minutes or more until they are soft. Use an enamel or stainless steel pot. Crush plums with a potato masher. Line a big strainer with two layers of moistened cheesecloth and squeeze the juice out of the cooked plums until you have 4 cups. Measure 4 cups of juice into the pot you used to cook the plums. Add the sugar. Boil until it comes to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. When you can’t stir it down, add the Certo. Then boil for another minute, remove from the heat, skim off the foam and you’re ready to put the jelly in the jars and put the lids on.
BEACH PLUM MARMALADE
2 Medium Oranges
½ Cup water
3 Cups washed beach plums
7-1/2 Cups sugar
1 Pouch Certo
Grate the citrus. Finely chop the pulp without using the white part. Set aside. After washing the beach plums, add the water. Use an enamel or stainless steel pot. Simmer until soft, probably at least 30 minutes. Mash the plums with a potato masher. Strain plums for juice, then go through and remove pits. Add the beach plum skins to the liquid and the citrus. Add the sugar. Boil. When it comes to a full rolling boil, turn off the heat and add the Certo. Boil for another minute, skim off the foam and put into jars.
Always do the math if you don’t have enough plums or too many for the recipe. You have to keep the sugar proportions the same, adding or subtracting the amount of sugar as necessary or the jam or jelly won’t set. Get your jars and lids washed and cooking before starting the jelly. Most of the recipes make between 7 and 9 of the quilted crystal jars sold at Home Depot, Lowes and hardware stores. It’s a good idea to have extra jars and lids washed in case you need them.
Over the years I found that an unexpected beach plum pit that you could see in the finished jar did not disqualify an entry for a prize. Judges look for good color. It’s one of the first things they see. Partially ripened beach plums add a lighter, brighter look to the jar. It is expected that the taste and texture of your jelly will be good
This year, after checking out the blossoms in the spring at West Meadow Beach and seeing how few plums those blossoms would yield, I planted three good size (10 gallon pots) beach plum plants from Bayport Flower Houses and four beach rose plants from Gurney’s in my back yard. They all have been watered every day and fertilized. When ripe, the rose hips should be a bright orange or cherry red color. The beach plums will get compost when it’s ready and all are doing well. The roses flowered and with any luck, I’ll get rose hips. The beach plums were almost four feet tall and came with plums already growing on them in varying stages of ripeness.
In September I’ll try to find enough rose hips at West Meadow Beach to add to my own to make rose hip jelly, using the following recipe which seemed interesting with the lemon flavor blended with the hint of apple flavor from the rose hips.
ROSE HIP JELLY
1/3 Cup lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
4 Cups of rose hip juice
7-1/2 Cups sugar
2 Pouches Certo
Using ripe rose hips, clean off the stems and blossom ends. Wash thoroughly. Cook the hips in a large enamel or stainless steel pot and simmer for at least half an hour or until soft. About a pound of rose hips will provide 2 cups of juice. Cook in enough water to cover the rose hips. When soft, strain the hips in two layers of moistened cheesecloth inside a big strainer. When you have the juice you need, put it back in the pot you cooked the hips in and add the sugar. Boil, stirring constantly. Bring to a full rolling boil and when you can’t stir it down, add the Certo. Boil again for another minute. Skim the foam off the mixture. Pour into jars.
Beach roses provide not only a lovely scent when in flower, their one drawback, thorns, make the plants a popular hedge, keeping people and animals at a distance. The roses’ classic good looks, salt tolerance and low maintenance have made them one of the mainstays of shoreside landscaping.