Words and Photos By Lesli Turock.

It is beach plum season and violet juice spatters my kitchen, a la Jackson Pollock. The late summer harvest is fleeting, but when it’s in full swing, stains happen.

It was quite by accident that I stumbled into foraging one late August day while walking beside a creek that meandered through a salt marsh. Fanned by a breeze wafting off the water, I walked for hours under a cobalt sky until the trail dead-ended into the back of a barrier beach piled high with sand dunes. Right where the creek met the sound at the top of those dunes sprawled three huge beach plum bushes laden with the largest bumper crop of plums I had ever seen! Drooping with the weight of purple, red, and golden plums, each bush dangled fruit of a different color. I’d brought nothing to collect the unexpected windfall, but some primal instinct welled up inside me, and like a feral creature drawn back to its kill, I returned several times to gather and haul back as many plums as I could.

Deep in the undulating dunes of coastal barrier islands, Prunus maritima flows down dune flanks, carpets valley floors, and perches precipitously on eroding summits where its roots dangle midair like gnarled brown icicles. Out in their native habitat, just beyond the boundary between the civilized and the wild, craggy old lichen-encrusted shrubs thrive. Far from the tinkering of botanists, the bushes maintain the integrity of their wild if irregular fruit. Intense, redolent of the terroir, and multi-hued, most plums are the color of blueberries, but some are red, and others are lavender. A few bushes even produce golden yellow plums, the rarest color of all. Dark blue plums have the most intense flavor. Red, lavender, and yellow plums are mild and tend to be sweeter.

Dependent on insects for pollination, not every bush receives adequate attention from pollinators, whose job can be hindered by the extreme conditions inherent to beachside living. Spring’s abundant white flowers seem like a promise but offer no guarantee of a fruit-bearing bush. Most bushes only produce fruit in alternate years, but my favorite bush has borne a bumper crop for three years running. I suspect there is a local population of pollinators to thank for that, but it’s just my theory. 

Competition abounds, and rumors of foragers with their clandestine spots are part of beach plum lore. But after many reconnaissance missions, I think it is more likely that many spots are unwittingly shared by folks who stealthily manage to avoid each other. Yet secret spots do exist deep in the realm of the beach plum, and anyone willing to trek through mosquitoes, poison ivy, and beach rose thorns might also stake their claim.

Back in my kitchen, the serendipitous harvest awaited, but I was unsure how to approach this coveted wild fruit. I respected the iconic status of beach plum jelly but wanted to use the whole fruit. Though rumors of astringency abound, I found the plums sweet. As far as I was concerned only the stems and pits were unusable. The skin would add gorgeous pigment and a bitter edge that would add complexity and balance out the sugar. But when faced with 25 pounds of tiny plums, the thought of using a cherry pitter seemed tedious indeed. Instead, I brought whole plums to a boil with a bit of water and passed the mixture through an ancient food mill that jammed up with pits and spat them out like a slingshot. Tiny crimson cannonballs flew about the kitchen, and they made a beautifully tinted mess, but the vivid purple puree had a singular flavor and could be used right away or frozen for future use.

That first harvest was cooked down into cases of thick jam, then snapped up at a local harvest fair. Yet I wanted more ways to showcase them and experimented. I found that they made luscious sherbets and intense sorbets steeped in gorgeous tones of purple. When I combined them with white peaches, they made a fabulous crisp that allowed the peach to shine, and diplomatically imbued the peach with a scarlet blush that disguised its tendency to brown. When I wanted to make a plum upside-down cake, I needed whole pitted plums and learned to love the cherry pitter.

It’s been many years since that fateful late summer day and the colorful abundance of that first harvest has never been matched. But the magic of the experience has stayed with me, and each year, as summer wanes, I head for the dunes, still eager for the thrill of the plum hunt. These are a few of my favorite recipes.

Beach Plum Sherbet

My first harvest of beach plums was cooked down into cases of thick jam, then snapped up at a local harvest fair. Yet I wanted more ways to showcase them and experimented. I found that they made luscious sherbets steeped in gorgeous tones of purple.
Servings 8 People


  • 2 cups beach plum compote or *pureed pitted beach plums
  • 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup milk half & half, or cream


  • Pit and puree raw beach plums or make a compote by bringing about 3 cups of whole plums and ¾ cups water just to a boil, then pass the mixture through a food mill. (*If you puree whole pitted beach plums there will be dark flecks of skin in the sherbet which will look gorgeous but produce a less smooth texture).
  • Mix beach plums with sugar and dairy of your choice. Puree or stir until sugar completely dissolves, and chill at least 2 hours.
  • Freeze in an ice cream maker until thick and doubled in volume, about 30 to 45 minutes.


Beach Plum Jam


  • 1⅓ cups beach plum puree or pitted whole plums
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Ball Real Fruit Pectin
  • ½ cup sugar


  • Mix beach plums with lemon juice and pectin.
  • Bring to a rolling boil.
  • Stir in sugar, then bring back to a rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute.
  • Can be hot-processed, frozen, or just refrigerated. Refrigerated jam lasts about 1 week.


Makes approximately two 8-ounce jars (recipe can be doubled).


Beach Plum Upside-Down Cake

Servings 10 people


Upside-Down Glaze

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup soft butter
  • ¼ cup honey Lyle’s Golden Syrup, or corn syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • cups whole beach plums pitted

Cake Batter

  • ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon almond flour
  • ¼ teaspoon plus ⅛ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon plus ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cups brown sugar packed
  • ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract


Upside-Down Glaze

  • Measure everything except the beach plums into a bowl.
  • Blend vigorously by hand or mixer, until there are no visible streaks of butter.
  • Spread over the bottom of a pre-greased 8” x 8” pan, or similarly sized skillet, and tightly pack the beach plums on top of the glaze.

Cake Batter

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Measure the dry ingredients and mix together.
  • Whisk the remaining 6 ingredients in bowl until thick, smooth, and emulsified.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix to a smooth batter.
  • Scrape batter over the pre-arranged beach plums and bake for about 45 minutes. Juices should bubble along the sides, and a toothpick inserted into the middle part of the cake should come out clean.
  • Wearing long-sleeved potholders, remove from the oven, cover the top of the cake pan with a sheet pan, then immediately flip over and whack firmly onto the counter, hitting the top of the pan to loosen the fruit. If any fruit is stuck, put it back on top of the cake with a butter knife while hot syrup is still pliable. (Be careful—hot sugar syrup can burn!)


Beach Plum and White Peach Crisp

Lesli Turock
Lesli Turock
Servings 10 people


Crisp Topping Ingredients

  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup almond flour
  • ¾ cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar packed
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup butter cut into small chunks

Crisp Filling Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole pitted beach plums
  • 3 cups white peaches sliced
  • ¾ teaspoons almond extract
  • teaspooons vanilla extract
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons
  • plus 1¼ teaspoons tapioca starch* * or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch


Crisp Topping

  • Measure all dry ingredients into a bowl, mixing thoroughly until there are no lumps of brown sugar.
  • Add chunks of butter, toss to distribute, then cut in butter with a pastry blender, or by rubbing butter between your fingertips, until the mixture darkens and looks like a crumbly dough. Pieces should be about the size of large blueberries and loose enough to sprinkle over fruit but form a homogenous dough if squeezed. Refrigerate while preparing the fruit. Th is recipe can easily be multiplied to make larger batches and can be kept in the freezer for future use.

Crisp Filling

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Pit beach plums and slice peaches into a bowl, add vanilla and almond extract.
  • Measure sugar and starch and blend thoroughly.
  • Combine fruits with sugar and starch and mix until the sugar looks like wet sand.
  • Transfer fruit into 8” x 8” pan, then cover evenly with crisp topping.
  • Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until juices are bubbling throughout and the crisp topping is a deep brown.