Tuesday, 15 September 2009
Damson plums are an ancient fruit, and were well known to the Romans, who were likely responsible for introducing them throughout Europe. They were known as prunus damascenum, the Damascus plum, which became corrupted to damson. It is likely that they did indeed originate near Damascus, now in modern-day Syria. They were cooked, dried, made into wines and liqueurs, and even used as dye. German plum kuchen, the slavic drink Slivovitz, English plum jam and flavoured gins, and Hungarian plum dumplings are all based on the Damson plum.
They came to North America with the earliest European settlers, and remained popular until quite recently. They are losing ground now, as fewer people grow them, know them, and consume them. Their downfall is the fact that they are not very nice to eat raw, being small and sour. They are also a bit tedious to pick, being small, so farmers don't necessarily love them. When you do find them, then, you will likely pay more for them than other plums. The fact is they are also a bit of a chore to cook with, as they are clingstone, meaning that the pits must be wrestled out of the flesh, or the fruit must first be cooked then de-pitted. In spite of these drawbacks, I eagerly hunt them out every September: they are worth all the effort. They are, without exception, the best domesticated plum for cooking. Damson plum jam is suberb.
However, when I bought mine the lady who was selling them was bubbling over about plum liqueur, and couldn't be stopped from giving me the recipe in great detail until I had to flat-out tell her I don't drink alcohol. I will pass on to you the gist of it, in case you do drink alcohol, and I am told this is a treat not to be missed. Wash and lightly stab (with a pin, or some such thing) your damsons, and put them in a sterilized jar of sufficient size to hold both damsons and alcohol. Take some alcohol; brandy, vodka or gin according to your desire, (I've heard kirsch suggested) and pour it over. Seal up, and set it away in a cool dark spot for a month or two. Then, strain it, discarding the plums. Taste the resulting liqueur, and add as much sugar as seems good to you.