We planted a Shropshire damson in our hedgerow over 20 years ago and allowed it to grow into a standard. On my side of the hedge it competes with a particuarly productive Kentish cobnut and so the damson grows tall above the hedge, making it hard to harvest. My neighbour has allowed the tree to grow unpruned and its laden boughs droop low into her garden. She kindly allowed me to pick the fruits whenever I want. What a lovely neighbour. I plant the tree, she grows the fruiting branches and I get the crop!
Shropshire damson is a gorgeous fruit. Unlike some wilder cousins, they are a dark purple colour with a beautiful velvety blush, juicy and quite sweet. At least half the size of a small plum, they are a fiddle to eat but they make delicious jelly, cheese and jam. I decided to make jam this year. The recipe is very simple.
Damson Jam Recipe
For every kilo or pound of jam you add half the corresponding amount of sugar and about a tenth of water. So:
4 lbs (1.8 kg) damsons
¼ pint (145 ml) water
4 lbs (1.8 kg) sugar
If you add too much water it takes longer to set the jam.
This is my method.
1. Pick out all the stalks and bits and pieces of garden that come with the fruit.
2. Don't wash - you want that lovely bloom of velvety skins left unblemished.
3. Put the water in a pan and add half the sugar. Begin warming and dissolve some of this sugar.
4. Add the fruit and the rest of the sugar and stir.
5. Bring to a boil gently - it takes a while to dissolve the sugar and soften the fruit. Add a knob of butter if it is frothing up too much.
6. Paintakingly pick out all the fruit. (You can cook the damsons first with sugar and strain to remove the stones but it doesn't give the jam the smokey, nutty flavour. Those little stones are worth cooking!)
7. Boil until your jam reaches setting point. For me this was less than 224oF/106oC and more like 206oC/100oF. It is too easy to overcook damsons and make cheese so put a saucer in the freezer for 5 minues, take the saucer out and then add a teaspoon of the jam. Leave for a few minutes and run your figure across the liquid. If it is set it will be jelly-like or even have a thin 'skin' on top.
8. Leave to cool for 5 minutes.
9. Check for stones. Squash whole damsons if you need to - stones will be released.
10. Place in clean jars and seal whilst hot.
After faffing about with all those stones in the jam, here is a really easy recipe.
1kg (2.2 lbs) damsons
500g (1.1. lbs) sugar
70 cl (23.7 fl oz) vodka
I made my vodka two ways. The first was to fill a jar with damsons, weigh them and then add half their weight in sugar. You need to prick the damsons a few times with a pin to help the vodka infuse into the mixture. Fill with vodka. Shake and place in a dark cupboard.
I also filled a jar with damsons and added one third in weight of sugar and filled with vodka.
Shake weekly. After six months strain the liquid in muslin and bottle. Seal and bottle. This concoction can be ready in six months but it is better left for a year or even two.
At the end of six months I am going to test my two vodkas and blend them. I don't like too sweet a liqueur so having two different recipes will help me achieve the best mix.
Don't discard those fantastic damsons infused with vodka! Save a few and dip in chocolate as a special treat.
Maddy Harland is the co-founder and editor of Permaculture - practical solutions for self reliance established in 1992. You can read a free copy online by clicking HERE. You can subscribe to our digital issue for just £2.75 ($2.99) a quarter. A digital subscription also enables you to read and search our back issues but if you like the lovely paper edition please see SUBSCRIBE.
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