After the wet summer we’ve had, our elderly damson trees are groaning under the weight of their fruit – and one branch has snapped under the strain. The damsons are hanging like bunches of grapes – I’ve never seen such a crop. The rural lanes round here are peppered with handmade signs advertising damsons for sale, and a friend who has plum trees is pressing plums on everyone she meets.

damsonsIf I’ve been quiet, its because I’m struggling to cope with the glut on top of a normal day’s work. We must have picked 50lbs off our two trees already, and there’s at least twice as much still to go, and I’ve already put lots in the freezer. We’ve made two vats of damson vodka already (six times the recipe below), and I made 7lbs of damson chutney before school this morning. I would have made more, but the preserving pans at Lakeland are sold out, and my big old saucepan is too small for more than one batch at a time.

So – just in case you have damson trees – here are the recipes I’ve been using. All, obviously, naturally gluten free.

Damson vodka

You’ll hear different versions of this recipe, with different proportions of fruit, sugar and alcohol. It’s based on the old sloe gin recipe … so if you have sloes, or plums, or want gin rather than vodka, feel free to mix and match, and use more or less of everything!

4lbs of fruit: 2lbs of sugar; 1litre of alcohol.

Prick the washed fruit several times with a fork. Mix all ingredients together. Leave for 3 months, stirring weekly. Strain out the fruit (should be nicely alcoholic by now, and you could use it on icecream, or perhaps in pies). Bottle just in time for Christmas. If you’re lucky enough to have a Lakeland near you, or an oldfashioned cookshop, you may be able to get sloe gin bottles – otherwise, just keep the vodka bottles and reuse them.

Damson and ginger chutney

This will make about 7lbs of chutney. See for instructions on sterilising jam jars.

3lbs damsons. Wash them and remove the stalks.
2in piece of fresh root ginger (or 4 tablespoons of ready-grated fresh ginger – not ground ginger).
15 cardamom pods. Crush them, discard the outer husks and save the black seeds.
1lb onions, very finely chopped
1 big cooking apple, chopped to size of sultanas
1lb of granulated sugar
1lb of dark muscovado sugar
12 oz of sultanas
2 pints of cider vinegar
6in cinnamon stick
2tablespoons of salt

Put the damsons into your (big!) pan and stir over a gentle heat until the fruits burst. Some people advise removing the stones at this point – I think they’re easier to remove later, when the flesh falls off them.

Add everything to the damsons, bring to the boil, then simmer for about 3 and one-half hours. While it is simmering, pick out the stones and discard them. Don’t let the chutney stick.

When it begins to look like chutney – thick and gloopy – and has reduced by about half, remove the pan from the heat. Discard the cinnamon stick, fill the jars and seal. Leave them for 3 months. They’ll be ready for Christmas.

Damson Jam

I’ll be making this too! Just follow the recipe for raspberry jam, but obviously replace the fruit. Don’t forget to pick the stones out as the jam is simmering.

**** update 2013 ****

I’ve had so much interest in damsons! There’s obviously a great love of the fruit, and a serious shortage of trees, so not enough fruit available, either here in the UK or in the USA. This is an old post, and our trees are now getting very old too; this is not going to be such a good year for damsons for us… I’ll have to plant some more damson trees, I think!