Hello there. I've made it to the pc!
Since we've moved here, it's felt like non-stop madness, box shuffling, wood chopping and then jumping on the bike and hurriedly cycling off to work, so despite the fact that I work a (admittedly only slightly) shorter day, and only 4 days a week, it still took me three weeks of saying "I need to pick the damsons" before I actually managed to do it, and another week to make it to the blog. Sigh.
The rather unassuming bit of the hedge is a damson tree. If you peer very hard you can see fat, juicy damsons...
They look like giant sloes, and if you try them early enough in the season, are just as tart and unpalatable, but give them a few weeks and they develop enough sweetness to be eatable straight off the tree. Ours were mostly very sweet, so I don't know if they're a named variety (unlikely) or we just got lucky.
When I finally did get round to picking them, they were already starting to go over - by which I mean rot - so quite a few got left on the tree in a state of unappetising squidgyness, which was rather disappointing. I'd had some (probably fanciful) idea about stripping the whole tree and doing something useful with every single last one, but in retorspect, even if I do managed to get some more, that is a bit over ambitious.
I picked just under 3 kilos, which I though was not bad going, considering that I only picked what I could reach from the ground (next time, I'll be ladder wrangling) and ate about every 1 in 5 or 6. I put some in a 1 litre Kilner jar and covered them in gin (oooh, a whole 'nother post) and put the rest in the oven with a splosh of water to stew. I didn't really have an end plan, but I reckoned that stewing them was probably a good place to start.
The disadvantage of damsons is the stones, and there are plenty of them. The fruit are about the size of a large cherry so you can imagine how little I warmed to the idea of stoning them before they went in the oven. However, the alternative is a. spitting your way through a bowlful of damsons every time you have some (not ideal) or b. putting the whole lot through a sieve or muslin (tedious). I opted for plan b, and pushed the whole lot (in small batches) through a plastic sieve (I wasn't sure whether my rather aged metal one would like the acidity).
Let me tell you, it is jolly tedious indeed and I didn't have the patience to do it in one session, but I got there in the end and got just under 1.4 litres, so that's about half a litre per kilo - not too shabby if you consider all those stones. I did add a bit of sugar, probably about 100 - 150g in total, but only enough to take the edge off it. Isn't it a glorious colour? I read somewhere online that damsons used to be grown to make dye, so it probably pays to not undertake any damson cookery in your best white top or frock!
Stashlet tried some mixed into quark and declared it delicious, but was not so keen on it neat - too strong a flavour. I think it will be really good on vanilla ice cream, and did in fact find a few damson ice cream recipes online while I was trying to work out what to do with my hoard. Unfortunately our two (very small) freezers are full of Mr G's German noodles - Lidl were doing a special and he got a bit carried away so there is no room for anything else other than a few small tubs of frozen damson puree.
If I do manage to get some more before it's too late, I might make some jam, or do another Kilner jar, this time with vodka (purely for comparison, of course!).
As a slight aside, when I'm writing this post, Typepad provides me with a sort of running commentary of links that it thinks may be applicable to my topic (ah, the power of key words...) and one popped up that actually did look quite useful (as opposed to one on Dulux paint, and another on buying cows in Kenya), so let me pass on to you CrumbBlog's Damson Custard Tart which looks rather delicious and has the advantage of pitting the damsons before they go in the oven, a task which is quite achievable when you're only doing 3 cup-worths and not 3 kilos.