For the past few years our annual autumn pilgrimage has been to a National Trust property south of London, in which car park contains several large and very productive damson trees. Every year we have visited the damsons have been left to rot and fall off so we don’t at all feel guilty filling a couple of carrier bags worth; call it membership benefits. The first year we found this secret source was quite by chance and we most definitely are going to keep it secret. This year I saw tiny trays of damsons in sale in Tesco for a horrendous sum. But I do wish there was somewhere closer to pick or acquire them.
Damsons are a subspecies of plums; the fruits are smaller than typical plums with a tart sourness that when cooked makes the most delicious rich fruity flavour with a tang. One or two types can be eaten raw, including the ones we liberated which I think are ‘Merryweather’. Damsons were once widely grown, including in nearby Buckinghamshire, until falling out of favour post Second World War. Did you know that they were used to dye cloth and straw for hats and were used to produce the khaki green of uniforms in the First World War?
We use our damsons to make the most delicious wine, jam and jelly. Because the fruit is high in pectin and acid, it sets very easily to make a delicious jam or jelly without additional pectin or lemon juice. The only pain is stoning them which is fiddly because the fruit clings to the stone so by far the easiest way, whatever recipe you are using, is to stew them first, mash with a potato masher, don rubber gloves and go fishing for the stones. Tedious but well worth it. The damson wine we made last year was the most successful of the homemade wines we have ever made and won me first place and a trophy at the local show. There are two fresh demi-johns on the go as I type this, bubbling away in the corner. There are numerous other ways of using this glut of fruit; damson ice-cream, damson crumble, damson gin, damson cheese, damson sauce (particularly good with gammon and game, like cranberry relish).
This recipe is courtesy of the queen of cooking, Delia Smith.