This weekend I made my annual pilgrimage to a damson tree near where I grew up. It’s a strange tree, situated in the middle of a fairly modern, busy village – not exactly the picture-perfect postcard you imagine when thinking of foraging fruit.
I’ve no idea how the tree could have got there. Its next to a road, and as damsons go, produces rather large fruit, leading me to think the tree might be some kind of escapee cultivated variety, rather than a wild one.
I’ve been coming to this tree for a few years now, and it’s always interesting to compare the weather. Yesterday was absolutely scorching, the warmest day of the year. Yet I’ve stood under this tree picking damsons in torrential rain, chilly in a coat. In 2009, I picked a whole 3 weeks before I did this year, too.
Damson Jam is the Tastiest Jam
I gather from the tree for jam, as I love damson jam. For me, ‘jamson’ is the tastiest jam available to man, even beating strawberry. I don’t make much, as the preparation is annoyingly fiddly, but the end product is gorgeous. The jam is a striking deep, red colour, and being that bit tarter than other fruit, the jam is a refreshingly sharper taste than most others.
I also use less sugar than other recipes suggest. This is a general rule of thumb in my jam making, as I do like a tarter jam.
Not So Much Bang for Buck – But Worth It!
Being smaller than plums and greengages, you don’t get so much bang for the buck from jamming damsons, and stoning them before cooking takes away a lot of the fruit, so most people cook the fruit and pick the stones out as they go along. A good tip is to count the damsons before you cook them, as then you’ll have an idea of how many stones you need to pick out.
I roughly followed The Boy Who Bakes Edd Kimber’s recipe, although there are loads of simple recipes out there on google. I adapted the amounts, using 1.25kg of damsons, 1.25kg of sugar and 300ml of water, which made 4 1lb jars of the strikingly coloured jam.
At roughly 25p a jar, that’s not to be sniffed at, especially when Wilkin and Sons damson jam retails at nearly 10 times that amount. Yours will be much tastier, too.
Most recipes suggest boiling the jam for 10 minutes, but I did mine for less than that as I like jam runny. I find that this is the best way of ensuring a fruitier flavour. And if you don’t achieve a set, you can always boil it up again the next day.
Oh, and one more tip. Don’t make this jam in your Sunday best. The red juice creates a lovely stain. I won’t be wearing that t-shirt again.