Farm to Table
Happy Earth Day! What’s the first fruit that comes to mind when you think of NJ?
Blue or cranberries? Jersey tomatoes? (Yes — they’re a fruit AND a vegetable.)
Allow me to introduce you to the beach plum.
In Thicker Than Water, Shannon Culligan is known for her expertise in the kitchen. Both Danny and Hugh are staunch admirers of her beach plum pie, a recipe (like this one) she inherited from her late mother.
Dubbed "Prunus maritima" (which translates to the Seaside Plumb), the fruit can be found along the Eastern Seaboard from Maine to Virginia. Several mid-Atlantic locales, including Plum Island (in both NY and MA) as well as Beach Plum Island State Park in Delaware take their name from it.
As you can see from the third photo, beach plums are significantly smaller than a regular plum. About the size of a cherry (also single-pitted), they grow in a variety of colors from deep purple to champagne yellow.
Beach plums ripen between late August and early September. Some Jersey Shore communities, such as Island Beach State Park, hold a Beach Plum festival annually. On the cape, you can find them near Higbee Beach and West Cape May.
The fruit is tart in flavor, easily lending itself to jams and jellies. This recipe by Fare Isle sounds both simple and delicious.
Some establishments, including Cape May Brewing Company and Natali Vineyards even make use of it in adult beverages.
I've already introduced you to the four main characters in TTW. Today, you get to meet Will Barkley.
Barkley is a childhood friend of the Culligans. His parents operate a small farm in West Cape May, a community with a long-standing history of agriculture. The truck pictured above is typical of the one his family would have utilized to sell their goods.
A New Jerseyan myself, paying homage to our state's moniker was important to me in developing this particular character as well as my choice of setting. This side of the cape has rich, fertile soil. It's also known for the Lima Bean.
West Cape May still has a fantastic farmer's market. Several granges, such as Beach Plum Farm, Central Park Farm, and Cape May Honey Farm (among others) thrive there today.
A Culinary History of Cape May by John Howard-Fusco served as one of my reference materials while outlining and drafting the TTW trilogy. The early chapters encompass (you guessed it) Cape May history, and I loved getting access to some of the hotel menus of yesteryear. It fascinating to see some of the places my characters would have gone, as well as helpful in writing scenes where they are partaking in food or drink.
The book contains many recipes*, which helped me ascertain the items Shannon would have had access to in her kitchen as well as the mess hall at Wissahickon Barracks (where she works).
Another aspect that I found wonderful was the book's appendix. While I try to link regionally-specific businesses (to the extent they pertain to the article I'm writing), Howard-Fusco provides a full list of places referenced in his work; physical addresses, business hours, type of cuisine served or procured, websites, and telephone numbers. It's great for anyone planning a trip down the shore, or those (like myself) who have an affinity for South Jersey.
Wanna get your hands on this great read? Click here to buy.
*recipes linked from this post are from non-copyrighted sites via Pinterest (as opposed to those found in A Culinary History of Cape May)
**beach plum photos courtesy of Rutgers NJAES and Friends of Island Beach State Park