First you need to source damsons, easiest way to do this is in September, pick a dry day, gather up children and dogs and a carrier bag and trog off to your nearest hedgerow. Damsons grow wild and are often found amongst blackthorn (sloe) bushes but be careful not to get sloes and damsons mixed up. They look alike but damsons are bigger, as soon as you taste them you’ll know if you’ve got a sloe by mistake as they are so dry all the moisture in your mouth will vanish – an interesting experience.
Damsons belong to the plum family but are smaller than a plum with an intense plummy flavour, gorgeous. Look underfoot and if you see black fruit on the ground the size of a large olive or grape with a green flesh and a bloom then they’re probably damsons. I tend to shake the tree or if they’re too high make sure everyone stands well back and lob sticks or the dog’s tennis balls at it to shake off the ripe fruit. Get the children to watch where the fruit lands and gather it up quickly. If the fruit doesn’t come off the tree easily it’s not ripe, come back next week.
The great thing about Damson Jam is that damsons are so high in pectin you use normal caster sugar NOT jam sugar, if you use jam sugar the jam will solidify. The bad thing about it is getting the stones out. A lot of recipes tell you to wash the fruit then boil it for 10-15 mins, use a masher to bash down the fruit and the stones will float to the top. This is rubbish, they don’t and you spent hours standing over the stove like a lemon trying to extricate the damned stones. i find it easier to use a paring knife and de-stone the fruit before cooking, if you have teenagers then get them to help.
1kg damsons – weighed once they’ve been stoned
1kg caster sugar
Place the damsons in a preserving pan or very large stainless steel pan (must be stainless steel or the fruit will extract properties from the pan that you really don’t want in your jam and it will pit the pan too) with the water and bring to the boil, cook for 10 mins then add the sugar, stir to dissolve then bring it to a rolling boil and cook for 30 mins.
In the meantime put two saucers into the freezer. After 30 mins remove one of the saucers from the freezer, place a teaspoonful of jam onto the saucer, wait 1 minute then gently push your finger over the surface of the jam, if it wrinkles it’s done, if it doesn’t quite wrinkle remove the jam from the heat and try again in another 3-4 minutes, if it’s nowhere near then keep boiling for another 5 minutes and retest with the other saucer. If you have a jam thermometer the jam should come to 106c. You need to be careful with this jam as it you overcook it then it will go very thick and brown so keep a close eye on it.
Serve with scones or in butterfly cakes or just plain on good crusty bread.