damsons: or what have the romans ever done for us!

a bowl of damsons
I have been feeling an Olympic-sized hole for the past few weeks - nothing to celebrate, I guess. London has settled back down to its normal grumpy self and I was feeling out of sorts. Until a trip to my local fruit 'n veg stall brought on a shout of sheer joy.

Damsons are in season. Hurrah!


For one short month of the year, the damson really excites me. Guess how much I love you, damsons. Whether it is your gorgeous name (an ancient corruption of the word "Damascus," where damsons were thought to come from) or your perfect purple exterior and deceptive apple-green interior. I love your tart affinity for sugar, or gin, or vodka. I look forward to seeing you every year.

If you are none-the-wiser from reading this eulogy, I should tell you that damsons are a type of small plum; an older variety of our domesticated plums, which probably originated in Syria. It was once a wild, hedgerow fruit, which is now cultivated, although you can still forage for wild plums in the Britain. Our prehistoric ancestors were familiar with damsons, but it was the Romans and then the Crusaders who popularised the damson in Europe. We have also to thank the Romans for introducing damsons to Britain (along with rabbits, ground elder and borage!)

Some years I miss you though. Whether it is because the weather has been bad, supplies limited, or once because I have got my months muddled up. But this year I have found you just in time, which makes me very happy indeed.

Damsons, even when ripe, are quite sour and need to be cooked or preserved, generally with loads of sugar. So whether it is jam, damson cheese (a bit like membrillo), chutney, fruit liqueurs or a perfect crumble, this is just one thing that the Romans have done for us, if inadvertently. Damson season is definitely a cause for celebration!

2 comments:

  1. Fascinating.I adore damsons too but interestingly Apricots here in the Algarve are called Damascos, maybe Damascus was a prolific fruit producing area?I would love to know more....Damson crumble thats really something to write home about!!!

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  2. Love damsons. A neighbour used to let me have all their damsons, then they left and now I am bereft of damsons :(

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