… a friend who shall remain nameless (Gill) gave me a gin making kit for my birthday. You know the kind … the one where you add gin. It came with all the vessels and utensils to make damson (or its cousin) sloe gin, plus a fool proof recipe (?) ... and now the damson season has finally arrived.
The jury is out on the origins of damson plums. Some say they were first cultivated in the ancient city of Damascus, now the capital of modern day Syria and hence the name. Others say it can’t be the same plum as those plums are recorded as being sweet, whereas today’s damsons are very astringent and thus tart. They do agree that like many plants they came to the UK in a Roman army chuck wagon and being a hardy little tree they can thrive almost anywhere. They were even taken to America by the British colonists where in Idaho they “escaped” and can be found growing in the wild, as they do here in the UK.
They are a common plant in hedgerows here and so you see lots of people loitering around said hedgerows with bowls giving passing motorists furtive looks that say “move on nothing to see here, get away from my damson treasures".
Unlike most plums damsons cannot be preserved by drying and so nowadays those who know what to do with these ancient little gems usually make jams and jellies, fruit paste (damson cheese) chutney and add them to puddings and ice cream. Best of all – steeped in sugar and alcohol to make damson gin or vodka. So here’s where my kit and fool proof recipe come in.
First procure some fresh fruit (I got organic ones) wash and dry them – tick. Buy a pack of granulated sugar (forgetting that you have some in the cupboard already) – tick. Procure a litre of ordinary gin – tick.
Now before we go any further I must warn you that there is violence involved in this recipe … take a pin or a needle and torture the damsons by pricking them all over to break their skin. The squeamish amongst you can pop them in the freezer until their skins crack as an alternative.
Bung them in your large clean jar, cover with sugar, add the gin, and seal. Give them a swirl each day until the sugar is dissolved and then put away in a dark place for at least 3 months to mature, tasting occasionally for balance (the gin, not yours) … voilà ... ready for Christmas – tick.