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10.13.16

Thirsty: Plum Island

If you have really good friends on Martha’s Vineyard, do not casually mention that you need beach plums. Really good friends will risk imminent arrest, not to mention large parking fines, to gather the native delicacy and deliver one-third of a grocery bag full of ripe beach plums within a day or two. I feel guilty. I didn’t even have any bail money saved up.

The beach plum (Prunus maritima for you Latin enthusiasts) has achieved mythical status on the Island. When Bartholomew Gosnold set off from England to explore the new world, he first landed in Maine, and eventually found Martha’s Vineyard. Some say he named our particular sandy oasis a vineyard because he thought beach plums were grapes. This is considered the first clueless washashore mistake in recorded history.

As plums go, the beach plum is kind of an outlier. They are small, with a relatively big pit, and bit of a bitter taste. But they are one tough plant, thriving in sand where little else will grow. Maybe that’s why we like it.

At your next late summer party, why not make a drink with beach plums? I’ll tell you why not. It’s damn hard work, that’s why.

Steve Myrick

First, you have to cook the plums down into a thick syrup. Take two cups of plums and dump them in a saucepan. Don’t worry about pits, or stems, or anything else. They give it flavor. My batch had a few wayward insects. I wouldn’t recommend that.

Next, add a cup of sugar. You may think this is a lot of sugar. You may think it will add a lot of calories to the drink. You are correct. So what. Skip the potato salad. Add two-thirds cup of water and simmer over medium heat. After a few minutes, take a potato masher and break up the beach plums to let all the flavor out. When the beach plum juice thickens (fifteen to twenty minutes), strain it into a bowl and cool.

In the Thirsty test kitchen, we first tried pairing beach plums with tequila. Do not try this at home. Even under tightly controlled conditions, using sophisticated equipment you probably don’t have, it was still awful. Next we tried bourbon, which should pair with anything sugary. It doesn’t pair with beach plums. Take my word for it.

Then we tried marshmallow vodka. Yes, friends, there is such a thing, and yes, friends, I had some on hand. It was left over from the time we tried to make s’mores martinis. It’s safe to say you could use vanilla vodka, or plain old premium vodka, and achieve
similar results.

With a little experimentation and a lot of taste testing, we created a drink we call the Beach Plum Fizz. Pour equal parts vodka and beach plum syrup into a cocktail shaker and shake. What else would you do? Pour into a highball glass packed with crushed ice. Add soda water or tonic water, your call. Garnish with a wedge of lime. We tested another version garnished with a sprig of mint. That was good too. The drink was quite refreshing, slightly sweet with a pleasant bitterness in the finish.

The best thing about a Beach Plum Fizz is the color. It is awe-inspiring, stop-you-in-your-tracks color, kind of a purply shade of cerise. So cook up a batch of beach plum syrup, and the next time you have a party you will be ready to astound your guests with your knowledge of beach plums while they get happy with their Beach Plum Fizzes. All you have to do is know it’s not a grape and you have Gosnold beat.