17 September 2015

Damsons - and what to do with them

Damsons are a variety of wild plum in season in September. They are smaller than domesticated plums, with a dark purple skin, often covered in a whitish bloom. They have a tart taste raw, but once cooked with a little sugar, have a delicious fruity flavour. Damsons can be found growing wild in hedgerows, but are also cultivated and can be found lurking in gardens and elderly orchards.

Spending a weekend recently with my parents, we went foraging for damsons with my mum. She took us to one of her best damson trees, tucked round the back of a municipal car park, and it was loaded with fruit. I always find it hard to stop once I start picking fruit, and we all picked quite a few damsons. My mum picks fruit faster than anyone else I know, and in a matter of minutes had filled a whole carrier-bag full (which she then donated to us). We went home with kilos of damsons, and I spent the following week getting home from work, then cooking damsons in one way or another.

What to do with damsons

Damsons make a delicious crumble or cobbler, and can be substituted in recipes that call for plums. Just remember that you will need to add more sugar than you would with plums. Damsons are a bit fiddly to stone, and because the fruits are smaller than plums, it takes longer to stone the same weight of fruit. I made damson sorbet with some of my haul, which was delicious, and had an amazing colour. The recipe can be found below. I also got my preserving kit out, and made damson chutney, damson jam, and pickled whole damsons.

Damson jam


1.5kg stoned damsons
1.25kg granulated sugar
0.5L water


The largest pan you have – a preserving pan or 28cm stewpan is ideal
A jam funnel
A metal ladle
5-6 1lb/450g jam jars plus lids
Waxed discs to fit the jars

Damsons make a wonderful jam, full of flavour and with a slight tartness. Damsons are high in pectin and relatively acidic, meaning that it is fairly easy to achieve a set. I find they have a tendency to stick on the bottom of the pan, and vigilance is required to make sure that the jam doesn't burn as it boils.

Start by placing a couple of small plates in the freezer - you can use these later to test for set. You will also need to sterilise some jars. Instructions on how to do this can be found in my post on apricot jam.

Stone the damsons. Some recipes use whole damsons and then skim the stones from the surface, but in the interests of not leaving any rogue stones in my jam, I stone the fruit first. To do this, simply cut the damson in half lengthways, then remove the stone.

Damson skins can be a bit tough, and need to be cooked down before the sugar is added. Once the sugar is added, the skins will not soften any further. So, add the fruit and water to a large pan, bring the damsons to a simmer, and then simmer slowly for about 20-30 minutes until the skins are soft.

Add the sugar, and continue to simmer, stirring from time to time, until the sugar has fully dissolved.

Bring the jam to a rolling boil, stirring from time to time to ensure it doesn't stick.

After 15 minutes of boiling, take the jam off the heat. Use the crinkle test to test for set: take one of the plates from the freezer and dollop on some of the jam. Allow to cool for a minute or so, then push your finger through it. If set, it should crinkle and ruck up a little as you do.

If the jam has set, skim off any foam from the pan then pour into jars and seal. A jam funnel is useful here to avoid making a mess. If the jam hasn't set, boil for another few minutes before testing for set again.

Damson sorbet


500g whole damsons
200ml water
150g caster sugar
25ml pasturised egg whites

It is easiest to make sorbet and ice cream using an ice cream maker. Adding egg whites will give a much creamier sorbet. Because the egg whites are uncooked, I use pasturised egg whites (which can be bought in larger supermarkets).

For the sorbet, the damsons can be stewed whole with the water. Once they have softened (20 minutes or so), push through a seive into a clean saucepan to remove the stones and skins. Add the sugar to the pan, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until dissolved.

Place in the fridge and cool for several hours. 

Whisk in the egg whites then churn until frozen.

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