Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pick Your Own Beach Plums

 For the last week or two people have been wandering the edges of the dunes carrying bags and baskets, picking beach plums as they find them ripe and ready to eat, leaving behind fruit that is not yet at its peak.
In a few more days, when those little plums are finally ripe, someone else coming along will pick them.

These little one-inch plums are delicious on their own, and they also make a great jam or jelly.
You might also find them at the farmer's market near Town Hall on Saturdays. Birdsong Farm in Dennis grows them, and there may be others nearby as well. Beach plums are becoming a popular addition to the orchards of small farms. They thrive in the poorest of soils, surviving drought and the harshest winter weather.

This woman was gathering beach plums near the Provincelands Visitor Center last week. Generally, picking anything in a national park is prohibited, but when the Town of Provincetown turned over roughly 4,000 acres of land, sand dunes, ponds and wildlife to the National Park Service in the 1960s, we insisted on continued traditional uses of the land. One of those uses was berry picking. So at the right time of year blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, beach plums and  others can be gathered on these national park lands. I've never run across the strawberries, myself, but two friends have each found them, and I've tasted all but those elusive strawberries.
In a couple of spots in the dunes you can even find high bush blueberries, growing on what amounts to a scraggly sort of tree about eight feet tall. Delicious! Just make sure you know what you're picking. There are a lot of blue berries in the forests and the dunes, but they aren't all blueberries. If you're not sure about what might be edible, just admire the lovely plant and walk on by. Not all the berries and fruits you'll find are safe to eat. And for mushrooms, you'll want to go with someone who has really studied the varieties you'll find out in the park. Many are poisonous.
The beach plums are pretty easy to identify. Nothing else out there looks quite the same. If you go out in search of beach plums this week remember to be kind to the land and to your fellow humans. Make sure you don't trample any plants or ground cover as you walk through the forests or dunes, and don't snatch up every bit of fruit you come across. Food gathering etiquette demands that we each pick just enough for our own use, and maybe a few to share with friends, but leave enough for other folks to do the same.

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