What a difference a year makes! Last year there were record crops nationwide of orchard fruits, and our markets and shops were awash with plums of every hue. None is more interesting or special, than the Damson, smaller, tarter than a dessert plum, but a truly magnificent fruit. Sadly, this year, orchard fruits of all varieties are a fraction of last year’s crop - a combination of poor weather, and the continuing collapse of bee numbers.
Grown extensively in the 1800’s the Damson’s dark skins were used as dye for the Yorkshire wool trade, and the remaining native crop still largely centres around the Lake District where the Lyth Valley Damsons, with their unique micro climate are particularly aromatic.
These magnificent trees are still fairly easily obtainable, and can be container grown to suit a patio if space is constrained. I excitedly watched my two trees smother themselves in blossom in the spring, like sugar scented fairy lights. Alas, not a single fruit reached maturity, but my trusty greengrocer did have some – essential for that most wondrous of beverages, Damson Gin.
Less common, but far more interesting than Slow Gin, it is made in much the same way: Kilner Jars half filled with bruised damsons (Freeze them, which will burst the skins, and defrost them in the jar if you don’t want stained fingers), top with Gin and a fist full of sugar. Leave to sleep for three months, before straining into bottles. The gin-sodden fruit can be dipped into chocolate, or made into crumble, served with a thick slick of cream.
The fruity sharpness also is excellent with Game – and a damson heavy chutney, or ketchup works wonders – both on the side of the plate, or poured into the roasting dish, to combine with the pan scrapings of say a roast Pheasant is the very essence of Autumn on the plate.
The message is clear – eat them, or lose this wonderful fruit forever.