Damson jam – what other two-word phrase sums up Englishness so well? As Summer comes to a close, it’s crafted in small batches in kitchens in cities, towns and villages from Cumbria to Cornwall – and in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland too! It is made commercially by at least 70 small artisan producers (and for supermarkets and by big jam and preserve companies) and sold to shops, in shops, online, and at markets and food festivals. If there’s a glut of fruit, the damsons can be frozen and jammed up at any time of the year.
Here’s a recipe for damson jam that attempts to skim out the stones during cooking but isn’t bothered if a few escape the slotted spoon.
Roguestone Damson Jam
Makes 4-6 jars, depending on size
What you’ll need
Damsons and sugar in a ratio of about 3:2 – 3lbs damsons, 2lbs sugar (a kilo bag)
500 ml water (for each 3lbs damsons)
Saucepan – doesn’t have to be a jumbo Maslin pan, but big, wide and deep is good
Long-handled wooden spoon for stirring
Slotted spoon for skimming out the stones
Saucers to go in freezer for the ‘is it set?’ test
Jam funnel if you like
Jam jars and lids [tip – buy supermarket cheapie jams at 29p a jar, empty contents, remove labels, wash and dry, use these matching jars for your damson jam]
How to do it
• CAUTION – boiling fruit and sugar gets red hot and hurts if it splashes on your skin. Take care, especially if there are kids around
Soak/scrape any labels off the jam jars, wash and rinse them, put them upside down in your (cold) oven. Do this for a couple more than you think you’ll need and you won’t be left with no jar to put jam in! Wash, rinse and dry the jam jar lids.
Put 3-4 saucers into your freezer to get really cold.
Rinse the damsons, pop them in the saucepan, put the pan on a ring on your cooker.
Add the water to the saucepan, bring to the boil, turn down and simmer for a good 20-30 minutes with no lid on, stirring with the wooden spoon from time to time.
Use the slotted spoon to take out damson stones. You won’t get them all, but don’t worry, you’ll have another go later.
Add the sugar and stir thoroughly until it’s all dissolved.
Turn up the heat, stirring now and then, until the fruit, water and sugar mix gets to a rolling boil.
Turn your oven on low to blast dry the jam jars.
Keep the jam mix boiling for 10-15 minutes, stirring now and then to stop it from sticking. Carefully lift out any rising stones with the slotted spoon.
Take a saucer out of the freezer, put a spoonful of the boiling jam mix onto it. After a few seconds, push the jam blob with your finger. If it wrinkles up, it’s done. If it doesn’t wrinkle up, boil away for few more minutes and do the ‘saucer test’ again with another cold saucer. Repeat the crinkly wrinkly test until you’re happy that the jam is ‘set’. Don’t boil away for ages or you’ll burn the jam and get a dark, overdone spread.
Turn off the heat and let the hot jam rest for 5-10 minutes.
Take the hot jam jars out of the oven and put them on a stable surface that won’t burn or crack. Use the ladle (and jam funnel if you like) to fill the jars with the jam. Put the lids on the jars, and put them somewhere safe to cool down for a few hours.
Your damson jam is now ready to eat, or to keep for many months ahead! Warn anyone who’ll be eating it that there may be the odd, rogue stone : you’ll probably spot it as you spread it – on toast topped with peanut butter!
Variations – add a splash of Vanilla essence; substitute Damson or Sloe Gin, or Port, for some of the water; mix damsons with blackcurrants/blackberries/raspberries for a ‘Hedgerow’; mix damsons with bigger plums for a ‘Damplum’ or ‘Plumson’