Damsons: not just for gin…


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!


11 replies
  1. Phil in the Kitchen
    Phil in the Kitchen says:

    What to do with sloes and damsons when you decant the gin (or vodka) has long been a difficult issue for me. I like your ideas a lot, especially the crumble. Someone who makes sloe and damson gin professionally once told me to put the used fruit into still cider for a week and I’d get something special at the end. I actually got something that tasted a bit odd but would be useful as an anaesthetic.

  2. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Phil: that might be the funniest comment ever left on our blog…

    Alan: it would certainly warm the coldest of nights. We were really quite squiffy at the end of it to be honest.

    Becs: got to give the Amaretti biscuit credit to my mum. She suggested it would go well with the almond flavours of the fruit and she was right! Blooming lovely!

  3. Old Pete
    Old Pete says:

    I shed a small tear reading your praise of damsons. However I have joined the
    legion of the damned and now have diabetes; fear not, no rants! However in my
    lamented fruit gin days I had the same problem with the leftovers. Two of my
    favourite solutions in those good old days were to puree the fruit (stones come out
    easily) and use it as a base for icecream and chutney. As the flavour is intense I would
    always mix and taste, quantities need to vary so much. I always used Marcella Hazan’s recipe for coffee icecream as the basis and for the chutney used a fruit recipe, so no surprisesthere. You need good ingredients for the ice cream but a little goes a long way.
    Ginger, onions chili and carrots were my starter ingredients. The vinegar doesn’t need
    to be anything special you’re only after the sharpness.
    I don’t normaly do food blogs but after discovering yours through the Observer
    article I am a convert!
    Good luck to you both.

  4. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Oh Pete, I could shed a tear for you too having to forgo the fruit gins. And then hug you for suggesting damsons in with coffee ice cream. It’s my favourite flavour and I wasn’t aware if could be improved but you’ve sold me on it! Hope to get more tips like that from you in the future!

  5. fetfer
    fetfer says:

    Great to see your praise of the home-made gin, I still make Damson &/or Sloe gins every year but I think my Father-in-Law drinks most of it.

    As for left over Damsons my wife has made the occasional batch of jam, another use we have put them to is the base of an oat and yoghurt breakfast, (layer alternately a small amount of the damsons with yoghurt and oats in a glass and put in fridge night before eating, you can add a bit of honey to the yoghurt if you have a sweet tooth).

    The best however was my Mum use to make a sponge topped pudding, rather than the usual crumble, the juice from the Damsons would seep up into the sponge. Hot out of the oven served with custard it was a winter treat.

  6. busygreenmum
    busygreenmum says:

    Finally got around to bottling the damson gin and vodka I made way back in September. These look some great ideas for using the fruit. We like sloes just with vanilla ice cream, and blackberries (from vodka) in a kind of eton mess, but will try out something else with the damsons I think. I have a book that suggests you can add sloes to wine for a few weeks to get a fortified wine – haven’t tried that either yet thought as the sloes are still soaking away but wonder if it might be alittle odd like the cider someone mentioned above.

  7. Liz
    Liz says:

    After marinating the damsons in brandy, strain well then dip the fruit in melted chocolate, place in petit for cases pack a few nicely in presentation boxes for the ultimate gift. Make sure you warm the recipient that they are very strong!!!!!

  8. Angela Lerwill
    Angela Lerwill says:

    Angela, September 2020
    After finishing sloe or damson gin add a cheap bottle of sherry. Leave it for a month or two and you have another boozy concoction. Idea given to me by an elderly friend in West Sussex many years a go.

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