Damsons are beautiful fruit, black and smooth with a bloom on them that makes you want to stroke them. They look like velvet. The little Shropshire damson tree has never fruited before but this summer, its fourth, it has had a bumper crop.
In August 2009 Ian and a friend picked bags full of wild damsons from the hedgerow. Last year we went down to the footpath hoping to gather more but the tree was bare of fruit. Were we too late. Had someone or something else been there before us? We didn't know but it was wonderful to see our own crop ripening on the tree.
The fruit produces a jam which is dense and dark, its sweetness undercut by a delicious sophisticated tartness. The downside of damsons is their stones. Unlike plums, they are not easy to stone when they are uncooked so today Ian and I have both spent what feels like hours fishing stones out of the jam as it cooks.
This drove Ian to internet search for what other people do with damson stones and we might even have a try with a cherry stoner with the remaining smaller number, taking them out of the uncooked fruit. It is quite impossible to do with a knife.
So we stand over the pan and the sieve and the pile of stones mounts and eventually the dark liquid seems without stones and it is time to bring the temperature up and boil for setting point.
The jars gleam and shine. But what can you see in the second jar from the left? How can it be a stone? Tell me it is just a trick of the light.
Easier by far is damson gin. You prick the damsons to release the juice. This is not quite as vital as it is for sloe gin as damsons are softer and more yielding but it does speed the process. Then you add half the weight of sugar. For every 450g of damsons you add 600ml of gin. Ours is Tesco gin and, extraordinarily, Tesco value! How wonderful is that? If you are not a reader in the UK, Tesco is a big supermarket chain and Tesco Value products are the cheapest way of buying basics: flour, cereal, coffee, bread and, apparently, gin! I love it.
Shake it every day for eight days and then every week for eight weeks. Drain the resulting dark, sweet liquor into bottles and keep for Christmas. Fight over what to do with the sugar soaked, gin soaked damsons.