Just when you thought you knew every fruit there is, along comes a new one. Well, it's not really new, but this plum is a lesser known variety than others, so it may be new to you. Let's see if we can acquaint you with this fun fruit.
What is it?
The damson is actually one of many varieties of plum. The fruit is produced from deciduous trees that blossom with little white flowers in early spring in the northern hemisphere, then the fruit is harvested in late summer to early fall.
There are several varieties of damson, each of which has a slightly different color and taste. The Shropshire damson, for instance, has a mildly acidic taste while the Merryweather damson has a sweeter flavor, more closely resembling the plums most often found in the produce aisle. It's hard to pinpoint one particular flavor of damson because they vary so much. Damsons have a soft yellow flesh and a rich indigo blue, red, or purple skin. It can be either sweet or tart, depending on which variety of the fruit you choose. Damsons all tend to be oval shaped, slightly pointy at one end.
Plums generally are documented as long as 2,000 years ago. Early documentation places the damson cultivation in the region surrounding Damascus, thus the name Damson, and were most likely introduced into England by the Romans. It is not known when damson plums were introduced into North America, but some site colonists most likely brought them during the first settlements.
Evidence of damsons have been found in Roman archaeological digs across England and there is even evidence of damson skins being used to produce purple dye during those ancient times.
All plums are a rich source of vitamin C, and riboflavin, as well as minerals like phosphorus, copper, manganese, magnesium and potassium, They are a good source of dietary fibers which can help lower bad cholesterol and keep the digestive tract functioning well.
It is believed that just a few plums a week can help battle fatigue. The reason appears to be because plums are loaded with essential minerals which act to calm nerves and support natural sleep patterns.
Plums also possess phytonutrients which have shown to help reduce or stop the growth of breast cancer cells. Plums also may help the body absorb iron. All this while being extremely low in calories.
Damson plums can be made into gin, much like sloe gin is made from a relative of the plum, the sloe berries. Sloe gin requires more sugar because damsons are sweeter than sloe berries. Another spirit made with damson plums is Slivovitz, which is a distilled drink made in Slavic countries. Some people also make a simple damson wine. Because many varieties of damson are quite tart and acidic, people found other uses than eating them right off the tree. That's why you'll find all sorts of recipes for damson fruit liqueurs, vodka, gin, and wine.
How to Eat
As mentioned, the damson eaten right from the tree can be a bit unpalatable as the skins can be quite tart. Because of this, most damsons are grown to make into jelly or jam. There are, however, at least a few varieties of damson cultivated for eating off the tree. The Merryweather and President Plum are two such damsons. A variety called Farleigh is best known as a cooking plum.
Some damson fans have developed wonderful recipes for pickling and canning. For canning purposes, the damson fruit is boiled until tender. Then, sugar and allspice can be added when the water in the fruit has been reduced. As you continue to boil the fruit, it becomes very thick and can then be poured into jars and processed.
If you choose the sweeter variety of damson fruit, you can also make a very good pie as well as a delicious compote for tarts, or mixed with cream cheese for a delightfully sweet spread for crackers. Damsons are also used to make things like chutney, cobbler, and a variation of Eve's Pudding, which is traditionally made with apples. The intense flavor of the fruit also can be taken advantage of successfully in sauces and stuffings for roast duck and other wild game who's flavor can stand up against the damson.
If you can find damson plums in your local store, it's worth giving this fruit a try. Its acidic qualities and strong flavors may perk up your next entrée or dessert quite nicely. And when your dinner guests ask what that delightfully fresh flavor is, go ahead and throw out the name Damson and see what happens. Perhaps it will spark a lively conversation and a few puzzled, but pleased, looks!
Damson Plum Pudding With Butter Sauce
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup Damson plum pulp
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 Tbsp buttermilk
1 cup Damson plum juice
1/2 cup water
2 tsp cornstarch
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 8 baking pan.
In a mixer or food processor, put the butter and sugar and set to cream until light, fluffy, and light yellow color.
With mixer running slowly, add eggs and plum pulp and blend just until combined.
In separate bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and nutmeg, then, with mixer running slowly, start adding dry ingredients alternating with buttermilk, until blended together.
Pour the mixture into prepared baking pan and bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 20 or 25 minutes or until pudding is set and not liquid in the middle.
Remove from oven and let cool slightly, then cut into serving size pieces and serve on individual plates with sauce drizzled on top.
To make sauce:
Put plum juice and water in a saucepan and put over medium heat.
In separate bowl, mix together the cornstarch and sugar; take a couple tablespoons of liquid from the pan and stir into the cornstarch and sugar mixture, then put all into the saucepan with the liquid.
Stir together in saucepan over heat until mixture thickens, then add butter, stir until melted and hot, then pour over prepared pudding squares on plates.
Damson Plum Cardamom Jam
5 pounds fresh Damson or Damask plums
1 cup water
12 whole cardamom pods
4 cups white sugar
1/4 teaspoon butter
In a sink full of cool water, rinse and de-stem the plums. Place them in a thick-bottomed pan suitable for slow cooking and deep enough to allow frothing when the plums begin to boil. Add the water and cardamom pods and bring the mixture to a low boil over medium heat. Turn heat to low for a slow simmer and allow the fruit to cook down uncovered for 1 1/2 hours. Allow the plums to cool.
To pit the plums, strain the cooled plums with a colander, pressing the juice out with your hands and collecting it in a large bowl. Pick up the pit-and-fruit slurry in the colander by small handfuls and squeeze the plum pulp and skins gently into the bowl with the syrup, retaining the pits in the palm of your hand and then discarding them.
Put the plums back into the original pot with the sugar and butter. Cook at a very low simmer until the mixture begins to thicken, about 4 hours. To test for adequate development of pectin, drop a spoonful of the jam on a plate and put it in the refrigerator for a few minutes: the mixture should be soft-set and no longer syrupy.
Ladle the hot jam into hot, sterile jars, wipe the rims clean, place sterile lids on, and tighten the screw caps. Allow the jars to cool to room temperature and check to be sure that each jar has sealed.
Damson Plum Liquor
1 gallon jug
1/2 peck Damson plums (enough for 3 jugs)
1 1/2 lbs. sugar
5th of vodka or gin
Fill gallon jug 1/3 full with plums. Mix sugar with vodka or gin; pour over plums in jug. Cover with cap.
Once a week for a few weeks turn over to make sure sugar is dissolved. Tighten cap; swish liquid up over plums. Loosen cap after swishing.
Repeat this for 6-8 weeks until sugar is dissolved.
Damson Plum Upside Down Cake
1 1/4 stick butter (10 Tbsp or 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp), softened
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp brown sugar, firmly packed
4 plums, pitted and sliced
5 Tbsp buttermilk OR 4 Tbsp milk plus 2 teaspoons milk and 1 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Zest of 1/2 an orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Four 10 or 8 ounce ramekins
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the insides of the ramekins. Melt 3/4 stick (6 Tbsp) of the butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar and whisk until smooth. Pour into the bottoms of the buttered ramekins, dividing the sugar butter sauce evenly among them. Arrange a layer of plum slices at the bottom of each ramekin.
If you are not using buttermilk, combine milk and lemon juice in a small bowl (the mixture will curdle), set aside. In a separate bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
Use an electric mixer to beat together the remaining 1/2 stick (1/4 cup or 4 Tbsp) butter with the granulated sugar and orange zest. Add the eggs and vanilla, mix to combine. Alternately add the dry flour mixture and the buttermilk (or lemon soured milk) mixture to the batter.
Divide the batter among the ramekins. Place the ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet and put in the oven on the middle rack. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until cakes are firm to the touch, and a toothpick or skewer inserted in the center does not come out with raw batter on it. (Might be wet from plum juice.) Turn the baking sheet around half-way through the baking to ensure an even baking for all the cakes.
Remove from oven and let cool on a rack until no longer hot to the touch. Run a paring knife around the edges of the ramekins. Invert onto a plate and gently lift off of the plate.
Serve alone or with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Makes 4 individual servings.
Damson Plum Caramel Pie
2 cups light brown sugar
1 cup butter
1 cup damson plum
1 pastry shell
Combine eggs, sugar, butter, and preserves in a medium mixing bowl; beat at medium speed of an electric mixer until smooth. Pour filling into pastry shell. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool pie completely before serving.
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