Like I’ve said before this is the time of year that really makes me feel like a culinary throw back to the days long gone; if not quite medieval then definitely pre-refrigerators. The desire to preserve anything and everything is strong and, I’m not going to lie to you, gets a bit stressful at times. Well, for me anyway. The problem is that everything makes an appearance at once and stays at its best for such a short window. Damsons are no exception.
Damsons were historically thought to have been introduced to the UK by the Romans, having made their way from (and taken their name from) the city of Damascus in modern day Syria. Of course, the notoriously astringent British damson differs greatly from the continental juicy sweet dessert plum meaning that very few get eaten straight off the tree and that this theory, though a nice yarn stays just that; a story. But like their plum cousins damsons are full of fibre, vitamin C, riboflavin and important minerals such as copper, potassium, magnesium and manganese. All good reasons not to leave them rotting on the ground then.
Now I have to admit, nothing would give me greater pleasure than making several litres of damson gin (to give out as Christmas presents of course, you understand. Definitely not all for me) but I’m pretty certain that not many of those health benefits get into a shot of damson gin and I’m also pretty sure that the whole family can’t really enjoy the fruits of those labours. At least, not for the next few years anyway. So another recipe is called for and I don’t think you can beat this old English one. I’ve made a few slight spicy tweaks to the traditional version but don’t let that worry you. The flavours are nothing but subtle and still work whether you choose to serve it as an accompaniment to game, or on the side of a cheese board rather like quince jelly or (like me) as a pseudo-healthy version of gummy bears. It does keep for ages covered in the fridge, but be warned. As soon as you bring it out it will be gone so choose your moment wisely.
Spiced Damson Cheese Recipe
1 kg damsons
Approx 400g granulated sugar
6-8 cardammon pods
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Throw the damsons in a heavy bottomed pan along with a tablespoon or so of water and heat them slowly until the skins start to split and the juices start to run.
Let them simmer away until they are completely soft then tip the whole lot into a sieve and rub it through (into a large measuring jug) to remove the spices, stones and any skin.
Next stir through the sugar, around 350g per 500 ml of juice. Warm over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves then simmer it, stirring every so often until it is nice and thick and gloppy. A good rule of thumb is that it is ready when the base of the pan remains momentarily visible after you’ve stirred it.
Decant into a non stick (or lightly greased) container and allow to cool.
Slice thinly and enjoy with cheese, game or my favourite, as a petit four; cut into cubes and tossed in icing sugar turkish delight style.