Taste of DamsonsA Taste of Damsons: From Jelly to Gin
by Victoria Barratt
pub. Westmorland Damson Association, 1997
64 pages, 3.50

Readers may be wondering why we are reviewing such a humble little recipe book among all the others? Well quite simply we seem to have lots of people turning up through the search engines looking for something to do with the damsons in their garden. Then we spotted this handy little booklet published by the WDA a few years ago.

'Sixty or seventy years' ago, hikers, charabancs and cars poured into the Lyth Valley in Westmorland every Spring to enjoy the glorious sight of the valley made white with damson blossom'. It is with this stirring of the past that Peter Cartmel, Chairman of the Westmorland Damson Association, introduces Barrett's readers to a fruit which has been marginalised over recent decades and now remains largely ignored.

The booklet is short - at only 64 pages - and is really intended as a short recipe book. But it's packed with lots of culinary ideas and over 100 recipes for this special fruit which is full of vitamin C and E.

The Introduction briefly provides the briefest botanical overview and history of the hardy damson, informing us that the type grown in England originates in Syria of old. We learn how the damson was an important fruit until WW2 and declined subsquently.

As you might expect the remainder of the booklet is broken down into cold and hot desserts, main dishes, syrups and sauces, beverages, and preserves. The damson has more uses to it than it would appear.

Barrett has collected her recipes from a variety of sources - some from books dating back a far as the 1860s while others are contributed by restauranteurs. Damson Fool, Compote, Vol-au-vent, and Souffle are among the many desserts mentioned.

Surprisingly, there are exciting uses of damsons in main courses and which almost beg a home trial... venison with damsons, mallard with damson and onion sauce, and grouse with damson gin gravy. And they say British food is boring!

Towards the back of the booklet there are sections on damson preserves including damson cheeses, a 'regular feature of Victorian dinner parties'. Do not be fooled. These are not dairy products but cakes of solid damson fruit which can be set in moulds and even preserved similar to their dairy counterparts. These cheeses (one of the recipes dates back to 1815) were 'often eaten with bread and butter or with meat and curries instead of chutney, and are a good accompaniment to lamb and poultry'.

What have we all been missing? It's probably likely that many people would not recognise a fruiting damson tree these days. But if you have one at the end of the garden or hedgerow that's been forgotten over the years, and you love food, then why not revive its use in your own kitchen and surprise your friends with your culinary expertise?

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