Dam, that's good
By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Aug 23 2015 07:05PM
It’s been a fantastic year for fruits and wild ones, including damsons, are no exception. These little purple plums are ripe and ready for picking right now (about a month earlier than we’d usually expect.) Like their smaller and sourer wild cousin the sloe, damsons make an excellent gin. Make it now and it’ll be ready to enjoy for Christmas.
450g damsons (available from your nearest hedgerow)
250g caster sugar
1 litre good quality gin
Wash the damsons and prick each one a couple of times with a needle or fork. Place into a large jar or empty gin bottle. Pour in the sugar and top up with as much of the gin as it takes to fill the bottle. Screw the lid on well and give it all a good shake. Store in a cool, dark cupboard and give the bottle another couple of turns every week for at least two months. Eventually, all the sugar will dissolve and the damson juices will have infused into the gin.
The result is a sweet, ruby red spirit. A delicious warming nip on its own, it will also add a fruity kick to mulled wine and, added to champagne or a good sparkling wine it makes a classy Christmas cocktail. Do not feel obliged to polish it off in one go – it will keep for years and only improves with age.
But wait...there's more!
This recipe is perfect for a glut of damsons, especially if you can’t face picking the stones out of damson jam. We call it a membrillo but, strictly speaking, that requires quince. Whatever you call it, the end products is a block of sliceable, tangy fruit jelly that is the perfect accompaniment to cheese (especially a punchy blue) and biscuits. One extra step (see recipe below) converts your membrillo into a fantastic tangy sweet.
To make a 500g block of membrillo you’ll need:
350g granulated white sugar
Rinse the damsons and add them to a large sauce pan. Add 50ml of water and bring to a simmer over a medium heat, stirring occasionally. The damsons will break down into a deep purple pulp. Once completely soft, pour through a sieve to remove the skins and stones. Give it a good scrape with a wooden spoon to get as much juice as you can. Discard the pulp. You’ll be left with about half a litre of thick, rich puree. Pour the puree back into the (rinsed) pan and add the sugar. Return to the heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and then simmer for about an hour to reduce the puree until it is really thick and glossy. When you can drag a wooden spoon across the base of the pan and glimpse the base for a second or two, it’s ready. Pour into a shallow plastic container and leave to set. Once completely cooled, remove your block of membrillo from the container, wrap it in cling film and store in the fridge (where it will keep for many months). Serve in slices on your cheeseboard. To make scrumptious damsons sweets, simply cut 1cm slices off your block, cut into cubes and dust each cube in caster sugar. If you're a real glutton for punishment, use a half-and-half mixture of sugar and food grade citric acid (available from most supermarket chemists) for a super-sour sensation that will make your eyes water!