Skull Gang Foraging Club: Damsons In Distress
There’s a chill in the air. The sun has faded to gentle misty warmth. Summer is dying. It’s death is slower and more graceful than the frantic onset. There is a hush in the air, people sit quietly in the parks, and they stroll in the streets. They keep their fucking shirts on. I love this time of year. The colour of the sky, the anticipation of a change in season, being able to wear coats again. Oh, and the fruit.
From here on in it’s pretty much a fruit fiesta. Apples, elderberry, sloe, blackberries, fruit is everywhere. Growing wild in parks and woodlands, or hanging over fences begging to be picked or shaken loose. You don’t realise just how much there is until you start to look.
We went looking for Damsons, or wild plums. We got heaps of the things.
Up until World War II damsons were cultivated throughout the UK, and can still be found pretty much everywhere. They can be found on roadsides, in woods, even backyards. Some are the remnants of old orchids, some escapees into the wild, and others are native. They were used as windbreaks in the old days, so hedgerows are full of them. We found five separate trees, in less then 5 hours. 3 of them were right beside each other though.
Like most of the stuff we eat, damsons are thought to have been introduced by the Romans. The native wild plums are called Bullaces. The cultivated plums that we know today are thought to be a cross between these two strains, as well as the cherry plum. Both damsons and bullaces are smaller than their cultivated cousins, and vary in colour from yellow to purple black. To get them down from the high branches, all you need to do is give the tree a good shake. This ensures that you only get the ripe ones, and is way easier than climbing. Up until they fully ripen damsons have a bitter tartness, and never reach the same levels of sweetness as normal plums. They make amazing jam though.
Because we found a used can of mace and one of those rape horns under one of the trees we’ll call this one ‘Damsons In Distress’.
Damsons In Distress
You will need 650-700 grams of sugar for each kilogram of damsons, and a bit over half a pint of water.
Bring the damsons and water to boil in a large pan. Boil until the fruit softens and the skins split. Add the sugar, the juice of a lemon (or even an orange), and a couple of pinches of ground cumin. Boil rapidly for 15 minutes, removing the pips with a slotted spoon at the same time. Test for set.
To test jam for set (to make sure it turns to jam, and doesn’t just stay liquid), keep a plate in the fridge to cool. After 15 minutes put a drop of the jam on the cool plate. If when it cools off the jam sets and doesn’t run around the plate, or crinkles when pushed with your finger, then it’s ready. If not continue to boil and re-test every 5 minutes. I like to keep mine as runny as possible.
Bottle in sterilised jars, let cool, and store.