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Preserving Damsons (again!)

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It was jam-making time again chez nous recently, which meant that we finally used up our stock of foraged and frozen damsons. This tub of fruit has been waiting patiently for inspiration to strike me for at least a year. In the end, the reason the damsons eventually found their way into a jam jar was less to do with inspiration and more to do with a need for a large Tupperware box long out of circulation. From such mundane considerations are culinary delights created (well that’s getting somewhat carried away I suppose, but you can see what I mean). What has started out as a purely practical exercise, has re-stocked our jam supplies with some quite more-ish fruit preserve. Still remaining to be used are some of last autumn’s foraged blackberries, but I will come to those soon I hope, as we are almost out of our supply of blackberry and apple jelly .

Defrosting Damsons

Ready to boil.

I originally planned to make the damson cheese from our Thane Prince Jams and Chutneys book. However, as I didn’t have the required 2kg of damsons available, but did have some Bramleys in the house, we ended up with a damson and apple cheese. I have thus borrowed from two recipes in Thane Prince’s book, as I have adapted elements from both the ‘Damson cheese’ and the ‘Apple butter’ recipes. If you remember, we have made preserves from her book previously, including our own variation of her apple butter using apples donated by a neighbour. This batch of preserves is noteworthy as it the first time that I had proper use out of my large new preserving pan, bought last year in Aldi. Part of me wishes I had chosen a smaller size, as you need to boil a large quantity of fruit to get good use out of the pot. Anyway, I suppose it should in future mean that fruit does not hang around in the freezer for a year, as I can now boil up an enormous batch should I so desire.

The damsons were quite small so I didn’t attempt to halve them and I peeled and chopped the apples (total of 2kg fruit) and put them with a litre of water to bring to the boil. I did find that the water took a longer time than I was expecting to reach boiling point, but I suppose that was because I was not used to the pan. Prince’s original recipe uses fresh ginger at this stage, to add zing to the fruit, but as I did not have any available (I think that happened last time I tried to make damson cheese) I resorted to the spice cupboard. When at the next stage of putting the fruit pulp and sugar (1.5kg) in together I added a quarter of a teaspoon of ground cinnamon to add a hint of spice. Next time, I really will make sure to have a piece of fresh ginger handy, as I would like to try it for flavour.

Damsons and Apples

Fruit cooking in the pan.

In this type of recipe, the hard work comes in at the stage of pushing the softened fruit through a sieve to create a fruit puree. I think that maybe I need a larger sieve to make the task a little easier as it is an arm aching process at the best of times. Then, when you get to the stage of being ready to test the mixture for a set, the recipe instruction says, ‘scoop out a spoonful, put it on a cold plate, and allow it to cool. It should stay in a mound rather than spread out over the plate’. Now, I had cooked the mixture for the suggested 30-45 minutes, resulting in a thickening of the fruit mixture but it was nowhere near as thick as to stay in a mound. Having said all of that, my test amount passed the appropriate wrinkle test, so I potted up the jam (cheese) into hot jars. I am not sure what I am doing wrong as my batches are never as thick as they are supposed to be. I am concerned that if I cook longer to achieve a greater thickness, that I will then spoil the flavour.

Jars of Damson & Apple Anyway, all my damson and apple cheese (or butter?) is safely sealed and labelled. Of course, we have already been sampling! If anyone has any jamming tips to offer, we would love to hear them.

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Reaching for new heights with a new foraging tool

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The blackberrying season came around this year and although we delayed a bit at the start, we have managed to get a good haul. This year we are freezing the berries in an empty biscuit tin as we gather them. When the tin is full and the time is right (ie: when we remember to buy the sugar), we’ll make bramble jelly.

We’ve been on three walks with intention to pick so far and all have been very successful. The tin is nearly full. We pick our berries on the banks of the River Dodder and sometimes in Bushy Park, where the brambles are both big and bountiful. On the first two expeditions we played safe, with the bushes we could easily reach on the bank or the shingles. On the third trip we aimed higher, with the aid of The Invention.

The Invention

A wire coat hanger

The Invention was originally Chris’ idea to help with foraging last year. We kept forgetting to make it until a few days ago, but it has now become a vital part of our foraging equipment (together with a bag, box and pair of gardening gloves). The Invention consists of one item only…drumroll, please… A COATHANGER! One wire coat hanger (see Fig. A), for which we owe thanks to the local dry-cleaners, makes the most perfect reaching tool imaginable.

First of all, Chris pulled the hanger so that the hook was at one end and it could be held at the other end (see Fig. B). That worked well until we became tempted by berries that were even higher than our newly extended reach. As an experiment to demonstrate human greed, a blackberrying scenario would surely be perfect. No sooner than new heights have been obtained, even higher ones are sought in the quest for the biggest blackberry!

The Invention 2

The coat hanger pulled out of shape.

Which brings me onto the next stage of development for The Invention. The hangers are only made of soft metal and it was easy to untwist the hook and pull the wire right out into a single length, with the hook on the end of this extension. Even more berries were now within our reach, both at the top of bushes and over the edges of parapets, where the bramble clings to the stonework in a huge tangle.

The Invention 3

The final version

Anyway, with our tin nearly full, we will probably make the jelly in the next few weeks. We still have frozen damsons from last autumn as well and we’re planning to make jumbleberry jam with some reduced price fruit as well, more on that soon!

Have you been foraging for fruit this autumn? Let us know what you’ve made!

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