Damson plums are a unique variety of fruit known for their distinctive spicy and astringent flavor. These small drupes, typically dark purple or blue, are a member of the plum family and have been cultivated for centuries.
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What is a Damson Plum?
The damson plum (Prunus domestica subsp. insititia) is a type of fruit that belongs to the Rosaceae family. It is a subspecies of the standard European plum (Prunus domestica) and is considered a distinct variety due to its unique characteristics. The damson plum is also called Damson, damson plum tree, Prunus insititia, or damson plum fruit.
Visually, damson plums are small to medium-sized fruits with a distinctive oval shape. They have smooth, thin skin ranging from deep blue to dark purple.
The flesh of the damson plum is dense and juicy, clinging to a relatively large pit or stone at the center. The fruit’s flesh has a vibrant yellow color when ripe.
In terms of flavor, damson plums are known for their tartness. The flesh is usually firm and slightly fibrous, offering a good balance between sweetness and acidity.
When fully ripe, the taste can be rich, sweet, and somewhat tangy. The tartness of the damson plum makes it an excellent choice for culinary uses, particularly for making jams, jellies, ice creams, preserves, and baked goods.
The History of Damson Plums
The origins of the damson plum are in the Middle East, specifically Syria. Experts suggest that the humble Damson was discovered in the historical city of Damascus, with the name Damson deriving from “damas cene,” a nod to the city’s name. Ruins in Mesopotamia bear evidence of damson plum seeds, and even ancient Greek poetry extols their virtues.
The Romans carried the damson plum seeds along their trade routes, introducing the fruit across Europe, starting in Italy and later in Great Britain. Lastly, they also found a home in the States.
The damson plum has reveres in the rustic countryside of Europe during the 19th century. The hardiness of damson plum trees made them the Spartan warriors of British orchards. The Lyth Valley, a scenic region near Cumbria, England, boasted acres of damson plum orchards in the 1850s.
Fast forward to modern times, and the damson plum has primarily stepped aside for its commercially more attractive counterparts. However, the torch still burns in Lyth Valley, where dedicated growers keep the tradition alive, and an annual celebration, Damson Day, pays homage to the legacy of these precious plums.
What Does a Damson Plum Taste Like?
When eaten raw, a damson plum has a bold, complex flavor that is rich and tart. The flesh is firm, juicy, and slightly sweet.
However, they have a noticeable astringency when underripe or raw, so they are not typically eaten raw like other plum varieties. The tartness of the damson plum lends itself to fantastic, complex flavor profiles when used in culinary applications.
When cooked, damson plums shine. The heat of cooking breaks down the astringency, and the fruit becomes sweeter while still maintaining some tartness.
The flavor deepens, developing a rich, fruity, slightly spicy taste. It is often compared to a concentrated plum flavor, with hints of almond and cherry.
How to Tell When A Damson Plum Is Ripe
Here’s how you can tell when a Damson plum is ripe:
|Mature damson plums are usually deep, dark blue, or purple. The fruit should be uniform in color, and any green patches may indicate that the plum is not yet fully ripe.
|The plum should be slightly soft but not mushy. It should yield slightly when you gently squeeze but bounce back to its original shape.
|A ripe damson plum will have a sweet, slightly tart fragrance.
Note: Remember, the ripening process will continue even after the plum has been picked, especially if left at room temperature. If you’ve bought plums that aren’t fully ripe yet, leave them on the counter for a few days to ripen.
Are Damsons and Regular Plums Related?
Damsons and regular plums are indeed related. They are both members of the Prunus genus, which includes other fruits like cherries, peaches, and apricots. Specifically, they belong to the subgenus Prunus, commonly referred to as the stone fruits due to the hard, pit-like stone in their center.
|Damsons and regular plums are similar in appearance as they both have a round shape, a stone in the middle, and smooth skin.
|Both plums are produced on deciduous trees, which lose their leaves annually.
|Usage in Cooking
|Both fruits are versatile in the culinary world. They can be eaten fresh or used in various recipes, including desserts, jellies, jams, and sauces.
|Size and Color
|Regular plums tend to be larger and come in a variety of colors, such as red, yellow, green, or purple. On the other hand, damsons are generally smaller and have a distinctive dark blue or indigo color.
|Damsons tend to be more tart than regular plums and are often considered too sour to eat raw, especially underripe. Regular plums, on the other hand, usually have a sweeter flavor and can be enjoyed fresh.
|Damsons are native to the regions around the Black Sea, while regular plums have different species originating from various parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
|There are many more regular plums varieties, including Japanese (Prunus salicina) and European plums (Prunus domestica). Damsons are a specific type of plum, also part of the Prunus domestica species, but in the subspecies insititia.
Cooking with Damson Plums
Here’s how to prepare damson plums:
- To prepare damson plums for cooking, start by washing them thoroughly under cold water.
- Then, remove the stems and pit the fruits.
- Depending on the recipe, you can leave the skin intact or peel it off.
Damson plums are commonly cooked in both sweet and savory dishes. These plums are particularly popular in European cuisines, including British, French, and Central European.
Due to their high pectin content, damson plums are famous for making jams, jellies, and preserves. This provides a natural thickening agent, and the tartness balances nicely with added sugar, producing a vibrant, flavorful jam. They’re also used for baking pies and tarts and making plum wine or brandy.
Here are three examples of specific dishes that feature Damson plums:
Damson and Apple Cheese: This is not your regular vegan cheese, but a combination of the best flavors: Damsons with their intense, rich plum-like tang and apples with their sweet, crisp innocence.
Marilla’s Blue Plum Preserve of Avonlea: This recipe is an homage to our dear “Anne of Green Gables”; This jam preserves fruit and the legacy of Avonlea’s timeless charm.
Easy Stewed Damson Plums: The damsons in this recipe are simmered, luring out their sultry sweetness, balanced with a lively tang. The name might say “easy,” but the flavor profile is anything but basic.
Damson Plum Jam: With its deep, fruity sweetness, this jam is the ultimate breakfast spread, turning a humble slice of bread into a piece de resistance.
How to Store Damson Plums
Damson plums can be stored at room temperature for a few days, typically up to a week.
Place the damson plums in a breathable container or paper bag, and store them in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Refrigeration helps maintain their freshness and extends their shelf life for up to two weeks.
Damson plums can also be frozen to preserve them for an extended period. First, wash and pit the plums, then spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the freezer until the plums are firm, and then transfer them to a freezer-safe bag or container. Frozen damson plums can last up to a year in the freezer.
Another option is to dry the damson plums. Wash and pit the plums, then cut them in half or slices. Arrange the pieces on a drying rack or baking sheet and dry them in a dehydrator or an oven set to a low temperature. Drying times vary, but it usually takes several hours or overnight. Store the dried plums in an airtight container, and they can last for several months.
Nutritional Benefits of Damson Plums
Damson plums come packed with several essential nutrients. One of these is vitamin K, which can help speed up the body’s natural healing process by assisting with clotting. Another vital nutrient is vitamin C. Consuming damson plums can help bolster your immune system due to this vitamin’s disease-fighting properties.
In addition, these plums are a valuable source of dietary fiber. Incorporating them into your diet can promote a healthy digestive system by ensuring smoother and more regular bowel movements.
The skin of these plums is colored by naturally occurring compounds known as antioxidants. These molecules shield our body cells from harmful free radicals, thus preventing potential damage.
Furthermore, damson plums are a good source of calcium, a crucial mineral that aids in maintaining strong bones and teeth. They also contain potassium, vital for the body’s fluid balance, helping to maintain hydration and proper functioning of cells.
Finally, damson plums offer a selection of other minerals in smaller amounts. These include copper, iron, manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium, all of which play key roles in bodily functions and overall health.
Where to Purchase Damson Plums
Depending on your region, you can find damson plums at certain farmers’ markets, typically in late summer or early fall, around August to September.
Some specialty grocery stores or gourmet food stores may carry damson plums. If you have difficulty finding damson plums locally, consider looking for online retailers specializing in delivering fresh produce. Some online fruit sellers or farm-to-door services may offer damson plums when they are in season.
Damson plums’ season is relatively short, usually lasting only a few weeks. So, it’s best to watch for them during late summer or early September and inquire with local farmers’ markets or specialty stores for the most accurate information on where to purchase them.