Out for the day in the middle of rural Oxfordshire, we pulled off the road to eat our sandwich lunch. I spotted a tree in the hedgerow nearby with, sadly, just a few damsons left very high up but nevertheless went to investigate. I was sure someone had beaten us to it, but when I got there I found the ground below the tree thick with fallen damsons. We filled our sandwich container and a few other bags and boxes we had to hand with the ripe and juicy fruit. What on earth to do with such a large harvest, I wondered. Crumbles, of course. Jam possibly?
Once at home I did some searching and came across this delicious chutney in Delia’s How to Cook: Book 3 (Pub: BBC) – Delia Smith comes up trumps yet again! (The recipe can also be found on Delia Smith’s website.) I thought I would try just a half quantity the first time, but I would not hesitate with making the full amount next time. … and there will be a ‘next time’. (Actually I have put some Damsons in the freezer so if needed I could make some more this year.) My only variation to the original recipe was to add the sugars right at the end of the cooking time, something I do regularly. This allows more of the vinegar to boil away, meaning the sugar is less likely to over caramelise and give the finished chutney a burnt taste. It also means that the finished chutney retains a better and lighter colour. My half quantity made nearly 3 x 1lb jars, so the full quantity given below would make about 6 x 1lb jars. This spicy, plummy chutney is delicious served with cheese and cold meats. We have made a note of the location of ‘Plum Corner’ (as we have named our picnic spot) and plan to go back there another year!
Spiced Damson Chutney
(makes about 6 x 1lb jars)
2 heaped tsp ground ginger
2 small cinnamon sticks
25g/1oz allspice berries
1 dessertspoon cloves
1.2litres/2 pints malt vinegar
450g/1lb cooking apples, unpeeled
3 large onions, peeled
3 cloves garlic
45og/1lb seedless raisins
450g/1lb dark soft brown sugar
450g/1lb demerara sugar
2tbsp sea salt
1. The stones need to be removed from the fruit. There are two ways of doing this. Either use a knife to remove each one before cooking, or
having counted the number of damsons you use, stew the fruit gently with 225g/½pt of the vinegar for about 20minutes and then remove the stones from the pan with a fork, making sure you have accounted for them all.
2. Place the stoned damsons, whole or pre-stewed, in a large preserving pan or heavy based saucepan. Leaving the apples unpeeled, remove their cores, finely chop them and add to the pan. Peel and finely chop the onions and add to the pan. Crush the garlic cloves thoroughly and add to the pan. Add the ginger, raisins and vinegar – or remaining vinegar if you have already part stewed the damsons.
3. Tie the cinnamon sticks, allspice berries and cloves in a piece of muslin – I knot them into a length of leg and foot cut from a clean old pair of tights. Tie with some string onto the handle of the pan and suspend the package in the chutney mixture.
4. Bring the mixture in the pan to the boil and lower the heat. Simmer very gently for 2-3 hours. Stir occasionally, particularly towards the end of the cooking time when the chutney is more likely to stick.
5. When almost all the vinegar has disappeared, stir in the sugars and make sure they are well dissolved. Continue to cook and when the chutney has thickened to a soft consistency and where you can draw a channel in the mixture so it leaves an imprint for a few seconds which does not fill with vinegar.
6. Wash the jars well and sterilise. I usually do this by filling the jars with boiling water and putting the lids in a bowl of boiling water. I pour away the water just before filling each jar and immediately take the lid from the bowl and screw it on.
7. Cool, label with the contents and date of making. Keep in a cool cupboard for 2 and preferably 3 months before eating so the flavours can develop.