Damsons are a very particular little fruit – small and oval in shape with a slight point at one end and a colour that is somewhere between indigo and black with the prettiest soft, smoky bloom.
Originally from Syria, they were first brought to England by the Romans, and although they used to be found only in the wild among the hedgerows, they are now commercially grown and therefore more readily available to all.
The sweet-sour green flesh of the damson is not always palatable raw and therefore is better poached in sugar – they will still have a sharp tartness about them, but it is made all the more delicious when softened by the sweetness.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com
Steamed pudding with damsons
This warm light pudding is very definitely comfort food!
300g/10oz damsons, rinsed under cool running water
150g/5oz caster sugar
Enough water to just cover the fruit
Place the damsons, water and sugar into a heavy-based, non-reactive pan. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring from time to time, for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the stove and pass through a colander, pressing down with a ladle to ensure that as much liquid as possible comes through. Allow to cool to room temperature.
For the puddings
100g/31/2oz unsalted butter at room temperature, plus a little extra for greasing the moulds
100g/31/2oz caster sugar
2 organic free-range eggs
100g/31/2oz self-raising flour
Finely grated zest of one lemon
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Butter four dariole moulds or small individual pudding basins. Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift in the flour from a good height and fold in gently. Finally, stir in the zest. Place a generous spoonful of damson into the base of each mould and spoon the batter over the top. Cover each mould loosely with buttered foil and bake on the middle shelf for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before inverting on to a warm plate. Serve with a dollop of cream or custard.
Damson jelly can be eaten on toast, or added to a pan when you are deglazing the base of a roasting tin to make a sauce that can be spooned over roasted chicken or lamb. It is also good served alongside a strong hard cheese such as Montgomery's cheddar or aged Parmesan. Simple and quick to make, it will keep well in a sealed jar in the fridge for several months.
Makes enough for 4-5 small jam jars
1 sharp crisp apple, such as Cox's
The juice of one lemon
750g/11/2lb caster sugar
Rinse the damsons, discarding any bruised or blemished fruit as you do so. Peel, core and chop the apple. Place the damsons in a large heavy-based non-reactive pan. Pour over enough water to give a 1cm depth but no more and bring to a simmer. Cook gently over a medium heat for 10 minutes, then remove from the heat.
Tip the contents of the pan into a muslin-lined large sieve; this helps to obtain the clearest jelly. Let the juice slip through gently on its own – it may need to be left overnight in order to do so. Return the juice to the pan along with the lemon juice and sugar. Now boil steadily without stirring for eight to 10 minutes. As the jelly reduces, skim any scum off the surface. To test whether the jelly is set, place a spoonful on to a chilled plate – it should be the consistency of a thick syrup.
Ladle the hot jelly into sterilised jars (a hot dishwasher cycle and a quick drying blast in the oven will do the trick) and allow to cool completely before placing in the fridge or a cool dark place.
Made with a simple custard base, this is a wonderfully coloured and sharp autumn ice-cream. It is best to use an ice-cream maker, but if you don't have one, simply place in a container in the freezer, stirring from time to time to prevent icicle particles from forming.
For the damsons, use the same quantities/method as for the steamed pudding recipe.
450ml/16fl oz double cream
350ml/12fl oz whole milk
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
120g/4fl oz caster sugar
6 organic free-range egg yolks
Place the cream, milk and vanilla pod into a heavy-based pan and place over a gentle heat. Cook for five minutes then remove from the heat and set aside for 20 minutes, allowing the vanilla to infuse the milk.
Place the sugar and yolks into a bowl and, using a whisk, beat until the yolks are pale and thick. Pour the still-warm milk over the yolk-and-sugar mixture, stirring as you do so. Return the custard to the saucepan and place over the lowest heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir the custard continuously using a figure-of-eight motion until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. This will take a little time, so you need to be patient.
Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl immediately and allow to cool to room temperature. Stir in the damson syrup and place into an ice-cream maker, then follow the manufacturer's instructions.