By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Sep 14 2016 12:00AM
Few hedgerow finds are more exciting or productive than a damson tree in full fruit - and they're in season now.
From September to October damson trees produce clusters of small, dusty violet plums. In a good year, (like this one) you'll be able to gather several kilos of fruit from a single tree in a matter of minutes - more than enough for most recipes. Although usually too tart to eat raw, damsons are packed full of juice and lend themselves to a huge number of culinary uses.
Damson Membrillo Recipe
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 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 heatproof 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.
Damson Sweets Recipe:
A bit more sugar
Food grade citric acid (available from most supermarket chemists)
To make these scrumptious damsons sweets, simply cut 1cm slices off your block, carefully 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 citric acid for a super-sour sensation that will make your eyes water!
Damson Gin Recipe
You can also make damson gin in exactly the same way as sloe gin with a bit less sugar because damsons are naturally sweeter. Because they're in season a month or so before sloes, damson gin should also be ready that bit earlier.
Did you know…? During WWII damsons were used to dye RAF uniforms, giving them their now-familiar light blue colour.