Monday, 28 September 2009

Delicious Damsons

Darn this world of full-time work!  Suddenly I have far too little time to write my blog.  However, I have made an effort to make time for cooking, particularly now we are entering a season full of nature's bounty...  I mean of course, lots of free food!

I'm not sure if we are particularly lucky regarding free food in our area - I suspect the profusion of cherries in our vicinity is very fortunate - but I seem to be continually discovering new sources of free fruit.  A mere 3 minutes walk down the road from our house for example, I suddenly discover a damson tree, laden with beautiful purple fruit!  It is definitely on public land (so no fruit-stealing worries here) and within a few minutes of not-very-arduous picking Rob and I managed to gather a large box full.

Now I wouldn't say I'm sick of jam...  but I do now have a cupboard full of it, 5 different varieties in all, and a total of about 10 jars which will take us about a year to eat.  So I really wanted to do something different with these damsons.  Thankfully inspiration came in the form of my Dad who often makes this wonderful Spiced Damson Sauce which is a perfect accompaniment to meats.  We have had it with the Christmas Turkey as an alternative to the traditional cranberry sauce, but it's also perfect with chicken.  I'd probably eat it with pork too.  I just love fruit-sauces with meats.  It's not too sweet, with the tartness provided by the fruit and the vinegar, and the flavours of the spices really shine through, especially the mace.  I don't usually like cloves much, but they work so well in this sauce.

Here's the recipe - so incredibly simple as you can see:

2lb / 900g damsons
1lb / 450g demerara sugar
A blade of mace
4 cloves  (I threw in a few more than this)
4 peppercorns  (Likewise - life's too short to count out peppercorns)
half tsp salt
half pint / 250ml vinegar (malt or wine)

Place all ingredients except the vinegar in a pan and simmer for 15 minutes.  (Add 2 tablespoons of water to get it going).  Add the vinegar and continue simmering for an hour.  Rub the mixture through a coarse sieve, return the pulp to the pan and boil gently for 10 minutes, stirring well so it doesn't catch.  Pot and keep for at last 2 weeks before eating.

I made 2 batches of this and discovered - erm, accidentally - with batch 1 that if you forget about timing the final 10-minute boiling and leave it bubbling away for 15-20 minutes, when potted it will set into a firm jelly.  Batch 2 was more carefully timed so is a fairly liquid sauce, but I actually prefer the firmer version for use when making sandwiches as it doesn't make the bread soggy.  Do as you please.

And it seems as though we're not the only ones who like damsons...

(Careless fruit-picking by Rob there - honestly, you can't get the staff!)  And yes, I did wash the fruit before using it!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Stolen Treasures

If a tree laden with fruit is growing in someone's garden, but the fruit is hanging over a public footpath, then is it stealing if you pick it?  This was the question that flitted through my mind as I hurriedly filled my empty sandwich box with luscious sweet Mirabelle plums on a local walk a few weeks ago.

I had done a cursory check into said garden, and established that no one was home, and salved my conscience by telling myself that there were literally thousands of plums on this tree...  but I couldn't help but feel a little guilty about taking them.

However, once home I put all guilt aside and set to turning these golden beauties into jam. 

Mirabelles are a small variety of plum - the perfect size for stoning with a cherry-pitter, and much less messy to do so!  They were perfectly ripe so were stoned with ease, and were soon bubbling away with some sugar and water. 

The recipe I used - this one, from the fabulous River Cottage 'Preserves' handbook by Pam Corbin - instructed one to crack some of the plum stones to extract the kernels and give the jam a slight almondy flavour.  But this sounded dangerous (I had visions of trying to bash them open with a hammer...) so instead, just as setting point was reached I added a scant teaspoon of almond essence.  This has provided a wonderful addition to the fruitiness of the jam - the almond flavour is subtle, but adds a real depth to the preserve. 

As you can see, I upped the almond level in one of my three jars by stirring through a generous handful of slivered almonds, which should provide an interesting texture.  I had never added nuts to a jam, but I have my fingers crossed that it will be a successful experiment.

A quick check through my kitchen cupboard has revealed that I now have 5 different varieties of home-made jam, all made in recent months.  With blackberries still to come, I fear that there will be even more by the time 2009 ends.  We don't even eat that much jam...  I think we'll just have to make the clotted cream tea a weekly occurance!