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Flora Fact: Plum Wild

Sand plums are bird hotels, critter buffets and the perfect ingredient for summer jam.

By Eva Frederick

On many sweltering afternoons as I was growing up, my dad and I could be found standing waist-deep in roadside thickets, scratching up our arms as we reached into the bushes for the glowing ornaments of midsummer: sand plums.

The plums, sun-warmed and dusty with caliche kicked up from the county road, were sour and pulpy, but we ate them anyway. The ones we didn’t eat, we dropped into plastic grocery bags until they were so heavy we worried the fruits would crush each other, and we headed home to fill Mason jars to the brim with warm, sweet jam.

Texas is home to several species of wild plum, the most common being the sand plum, Prunus angustifolia. This plum is also known as the Chickasaw plum, because it was one of the wild plants eaten — and possibly cultivated — by Native Americans. They would eat the plums fresh or use dried sand plums to create pemmican, a high-calorie food designed to sustain them through long winters.

plums

Sand plums are in the same family as roses, Rosaceae, and typically grow in twiggy, thorny thickets that can be hard to navigate for human harvesters. The brush is no problem for other plum-loving creatures such as raccoons, and rabbits, which nibble on the bark of the bushes.

Besides being an all-you-can-eat buffet for raccoons and friends, sand plum thickets also serve as homes or canopies for other types of wildlife. Their twiggy bushes provide shelter for species like the bobwhite quail and lesser prairie-chicken, and they can also help cows find some shade in the dog days of summer.

The plums produce bouquets of fragrant, delicate flowers in March and April, and bear fruit in late June or July. The leaves are glossy and folded over in the shape of a trough. The plums themselves can be red, orange or yellow, and range from being soft and sweet like grocery store plums to hard and sour.

These plums are good for either jelly, which is made from juice, or jam, which has pieces of fruit in it. The jelly is delicious, and the plums’ tangy peels make for a perfectly tart accent to a sweet jam.

This summer, head out to a plum-covered roadside — their range extends over pretty much all of the state — cue some summer tunes and get ready for a jam session!

Plum jam

Makes four to six 8 oz. jars

2 pounds sand plums
Water to cover
1 pound granulated sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice (optional)

First, put a small plate in the freezer. This will be used later to check if the jam is ready to set. Next, wash the plums in cold water, then add to a large pot with enough water to cover them, and bring to a boil. Simmer plums in water until the skins have split and the pulp is beginning to separate from the seeds, then use a slotted spoon to pick out the pits from the mixture. (This step can be tedious, but the result is worth the work.) Add the sugar and bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. The jam should be a rich red-orange or purple. To test if your jam is ready for the jar, you can do a “plate test.” Dip your spoon in the boiling jam and drip a small amount of the liquid onto the cold plate from before. Let it rest for 30 seconds. Gently tip the plate to the side. The jam should be a soft gel that moves slightly when tipped. If the liquid is too thin and runs down the plate, the jam should cook for a few more minutes so it can set properly.


Common Name
Sand plum, Chickasaw plum

Scientific Name
Prunus angustifolia

Size
Sand plum bushes range from 3-10 feet, and often form thickets up to 25 feet wide

Did you know?
The whitish translucent covering is a wax produced to retain water. It can be home to wild yeast - the same fungus used to make bread.

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