As late summer dampens down to the nip and chill of early autumn, the Great British countryside makes up for the end of fun in the sun by filling the hedgerows, fields and verges with all manner of edible goodies. Autumn is by far my favourite season for food – particularly foraged finds. One of the earliest hedgerow edibles to make an appearance is the damson, a beautiful, deep purple hedgerow plum. From the end of August on, it is worth keeping your eyes peeled for a tree laden with these little guys – blink and you’ll miss’em and trust me, they are far too good to pass up.
Unlike their more saccharine, domestic cousins – like Victorias or Greengages – damsons tend to be pretty tart when raw, but that is nothing that a bit of heat and a bit more sugar can’t fix. Once cooked, these dusky damsels have a deep, rich flavour that is beyond versatile. Yes, damsons lend themselves to exceptional jams, gins and compotes, but they are also perfect in pies and cobblers or folded through creamy rice puddings. Alternatively, try them set into a membrillo like paste to compliment a groaning cheeseboard (if you’re cheeseboard isn’t groaning you are doing it wrong) or, my personal favourite, stirred through the roasting juices to make a rich, meaty sauce to accompany grouse, teal, venison or any of the other game birds or beasts that are yet another of the great joys of the autumn season.
Now I am well aware that once again I seem to have donned my country bumpkin hat (presumably a proverbial tweed flat cap, or maybe a deer stalker if I’m feeling ostentatious) but one of the best things about damsons is that they are hardy plants that grow everywhere, including more urban settings, so even you gritty Londoners could well stumble across an unsuspecting tree. Alternatively, they are a common sight on farmer’s market stalls this month – I saw plenty at Borough Market recently.
Over the course of this week I will be sharing a few of my favourite damson recipes. When I get a bagful of the plums I find it easiest to first turn them into a puree which will keep beautifully in the fridge and can be used in most recipes – I only use the whole fruit for cobblers or clafoutis. Damsons are very fond of their stones (in fact they tend to cling on for dear life) and stoning a decent quantity is far too much like hard work, so boiling them whole with sugar until they fall apart into a fruity, magenta puree from which the stones can be easily sieved makes them much less of a headache. The recipes I will be sharing with you all use this puree as a starting point, but also feel free to liberally dollop it over yoghurt, drizzle over cakes or eat it straight from the jar (go on, nobody’s watching).
- 500g damsons, washed and stalks removed
- 170g caster sugar
- 150ml water
Put the damsons and sugar in a large saucepan and pour over the water. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves, the fruit collapses and the stones start to rise to the top.
Skim off any stones that have risen to the top and pass the puree through a sieve into a bowl to remove any stones that are left. Taste the puree and add a little more sugar if it is still a bit tart.
Leave to cool, then pour the puree into a jar and refrigerate.