Damsons, a sub-species of plum, were first cultivated around the Syrian capital city of Damascus and, as such, are also known as the Damascus plum. They were brought to Britain by the Romans and then introduced to North America by English settlers. These small oval fruits, with a dark blue skin and a yellow/green flesh, are very tart and, when cooked, give off a dark purple juice. The Lyth valley in the north-west of England is well-known for growing damsons. Apart from being used in jams, chutneys and as an alternative to sloes in gin, they are also good used in pies, crumbles, cobblers and baked sponge puddings.
Because they have stones, which although not difficult are laborious to remove when raw, they are easier to use when cooked and sieved. They have such an intense flavour that this purée can be added to other late summer/autumn fruits, such as apples, plums and blackberries. Alternatively, remove the stones from the damsons, mix with chopped Bramley apples and spices to make a strudel, or put the same mixture between shortcrust pastry on a pie plate for a variation of the more traditional blackberry and apple pie. They can also be made into muffins by stoning them and cutting the flesh into dice before adding to the basic mixture.
Season: end of August - mid-October
By Fiona Burrell, co-author of Leiths Baking Bible, from the world-famous Leiths School of Food and Wine