One of the best varieties of damsons is the Shropshire Prune, described by Catherine Moran, a damson grower and enthusiast as “spicy, rich, high notes, low notes, sweet-tart at once.” From past experience, if picked when just ripe this variety produces quality Damson jam, jelly and cheese. Booking a stay mid September at the newly opened School House B&B near Ludlow in Shropshire, I asked Clare Wright the owner if she knew where I could buy damsons. To my delight she told me there was a tree in her garden, a Shropshire Prune. In exchange for many kilos of damsons from Clare and her neighbour we made jam during my stay; a rare opportunity to look out at the tree in the garden whilst making jam in the kitchen. I had a wonderful time teaching. As I left for home, I arranged to return in February to present a marmalade demonstration to the local Women’s Institute who just happen to meet in the village hall next door.
Often served with a cheese course, damson cheese is also eaten with bread ( like jam) or with cold meats. My favourite way is to serve it as a petit four cut into small shapes and dipped in melted chocolate. Fruit cheeses are traditionally potted in small, straight sided containers, although I quite like heart shaped moulds. When turned out, their colour is deep, even and rich. They should cut cleanly and not be soft or sticky. Once made, they benefit from a few months stored to mature the flavour.
1. Cook the damsons in the water in a covered pan over a low heat until the fruit is reduced to a wet pulp. Sieve thoroughly and weigh the pulp, there should be about 1.2kg.
2. Weigh out 345g sugar for each 450g of measured pulp, and any extra in proportion.
3. Warm the sugar in an ovenproof bowl, in a pre-heated oven, 120C for 20minutes.
4. Add the sugar to the pan of pulp and dissolve it over a low heat. Bring to a boil and cook the cheese for about 30 minutes. Stir frequently until the cheese is thick. It is ready when a spoon drawn across the bottom of the pan leaves a clean line.
5. To test the cheese is finished, drop a blob on to a cold plate, it should set, peel off and have the texture of a jelly sweet
6. Pour into clean ramekins or moulds lightly greased with glycerine. Seal ramekins with waxed discs and cover with cellophane or cling film when cold. Alternatively, leave individual moulds until cold, turn out and wrap in baking parchment. Store for 2-3 months to mature in flavour.