I don’t believe in doing a dry January. It’s a long bleak month, made grey by the weather and the removal of those lovely twinkly Christmas lights and decorations. The rest of the world withdraws from society, exhausted after the festive season and starts detailing every morsel they do or don’t eat with a side helping of shame and the Special K diet. So frankly I need a drink just to deal with them.
I don’t mean going out and drinking every bar in the borough dry, but I do enjoy a winter time tipple, usually just before bed to warm the cockles properly. And luckily my family always comes up trumps with just the ticket over Christmas in the shape of homemade fruit gins. Mister North tends to specialise in damson gin and our mum tends to go for sloe gin, which is a family tradition dating back to my childhood. However the weather in 2012 was not good for sloes, so both of them went for damson gin this year.
Warm and jewel coloured, this plum rich sweet liquor warms you better than an electric blanket and with much more style. Sipped slowly in front of fire, it softens and soothes you to sleep well when you get to bed. Served long, tall and cool over ice with tonic to cut it, it reinvents the gin and tonic in a way that’s not just for Christmas. You can even, oddly enough, douse fish in it to make a sultry salmon gravlaks.
But what about all those tiny gin soaked damsons left behind when you bottle the booze? It seems a shame to just throw them in the bin, but when I asked for advice, very few people could offer any options, so I’ve decided to offer some of my own. The most common suggestion was to turn them into a boozy compote and serve over ice cream. This would be a very grown up dessert indeed and highly delicious, but I’d tire of it quite quickly as I don’t eat much vanilla ice cream.
A quick jam would make a good option and help take some of the breath-taking booziness off the fruit. I’d even add a hint of vanilla to round it all out nicely.
Damson Jam: (adapted from Beryl Wood’s Let’s Preserve It)
- 910g (2lb) damsons
- 570ml (1 pint) water
- 700g sugar
Slit the damsons, but don’t stone them. This is easy, but dull so don’t forget to pour yourself some of the gin while you’re at it.
Put them in the pan with the water and simmer gently until tender. This will be less time than if the fruit wasn’t gin softened already. Add the sugar, stirring until dissolved and bring quickly to the boil. The stones will float upwards. Boil the jam fast until set using the wrinkle test on a cold saucer, before pouring into sterilised jars. The booze means this will be a slightly loose set jam, perfect for slapping on Sunday morning toast.
Damsons also work well with chocolate so lob a generous handful into a batch of dark melting brownies or add to the David Lebovitz cake I made here instead of the prunes. Or use a cherry stoner to pit the fruit and dip them into melted chocolate as a decadent petit four. And if unlike me you don’t shudder at the mere thought of trifle, make the world’s booziest version with a layer of gin soaked fruit in there. Jelly optional….
But we went for a winter classic instead and made a damson crumble, rich with fruit and made extra crunchy with Amaretti biscuits on top to complement the almondy flavour of the stone fruit. Very easy and cooked just enough to take some of the fumes away before eating!
Damson Crumble (serves 6)
- 200g plain flour
- 150g chilled cubed butter
- 75g Amaretti biscuits, crushed
- 75g caster sugar
- 400g damsons, stoned
Heat the oven to 170°C. Then rub the cubed butter into the caster sugar and flour with your fingertips until you have what looks like breadcrumbs. Don’t over rub or you’ll end up with dust. Add in the crushed Amaretti biscuits and top the fruit with it all. You don’t need any extra sugar on the fruit as they been steeped with it as well as gin. Bake for 14 minutes or until lightly golden. Serve with a generous dollop of cream or vanilla ice cream and do not drive afterwards. You will feel pleasantly warm and fuzzy round the edges, trust me!