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Damson jam

Updated: Sep 3, 2019

This hedgerow treat is perfect for teatime or breakfast

Finished jam in old Kilner jars - cleaned and sterilised in the oven for about 20 minutes

It's the 1st September today and a reasonably quiet Sunday in our household (we've had a walk, done some gardening, been sat on by the cat etc) so it was off to pick damsons from the tree down the field (a lovely spot that no one else except us and our neighbours can get to, and as our neighbours all elderly and not really into jam making, the precious little dusky wild plums are all ours!)

So, here's how I made two reasonably large jars (they're old Kilner ones of my grandma's - I have no idea how big they are in volume, or indeed how old they are, or indeed if they're still even vaguely sterile no matter what I do to them.)

650g damsons, destemmed and washed

100ml water

500g preserving sugar

I started by washing the damsons and destemming them. I thought it would be wise to count the damsons as I popped them into the pan - reckoning that for every damson there would be a stone that would need picking out. There were 156 damsons. And this was only for TWO JARS. I pity anyone who is intending to make a proper stash.

Also, before lift off as it were, put a saucer into the fridge. You'll find out why later. And put the oven onto about 100C and the jars, lids off, into the oven on a baking tray.

Anyway, damsons and 100ml of water went into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and I set the heat to medium. As you can see from the picture, before long they started to split and I started the endurance test that was counting out the stones. This was made harder as I had Radio 4 on in the background and kept losing my place between 1 and 156. But we've decided that the jam will be like game - and will come with the warning 'may contain shot!'

56 out, 100 to go...

As jams are usually made on the presumption that you weigh the fruit and then add an equal amount of sugar, I thought it would be best to extract all the stones and weigh them against the original weight of the damsons (650g) so that I didn't overdose the jam with too much sugar. I'm sure a lot of damson pulp and skin came out with the stones and although I rubbed them against a fine sieve once they were all out* I'm sure some of the 'weight' of the what came out was also some plummy goodness.

* referring back to the 'may contain shot' quip - I only counted out 146 stones. Something has gone wrong here... or maybe the Radio 4 program on the legal system in Scotland made me lose count during the initial damson-into-saucepan moment. We will never know.

Once the stones are out and the fruit pulp has bubbled away it's time to add the sugar. Apparently damsons are naturally high in pectin so you could use granulated sugar, but I had some preserving sugar in the larder so decided 'belt and braces' and all that and used it. As you can see from the picture it looks like an inordinate amount of sugar compared to pulp and it is - don't be alarmed if you think it is Just Too Much. Let's face it, jam was never put on this earth to cure diabetes. This is, however, at least 100g less than the recommended amount, so Iet's call it diet jam and be done with it.

Let the sugar dissolve into the fruit pulp and then put the heat up a bit to get a really good rolling bubble happening.

It will really start to look lava-ish.

At this point, get that saucer out of the fridge and then you can start doing the 'wrinkle test'. This is for people who don't have jam thermometers, or for people like me who do, but who can't be bothered to use them. It's very simple - just carefully take a teaspoon and smear a bit of the boiling jam on the chilled saucer. Wait a minute, then push your fingernail through it. If it wrinkles, even a little bit, you're good to go.

At this point, take your jam jars out of the oven where they've been sterilising and pour the jam into the jars. There are heaps of tips online on how you should sterilise jam jars. As I said up top, these are some old ones of my grandma's and I'm sure they're riddled with 1950s bacteria, but I use them again and again and we haven't keeled over yet (well, perhaps with a sugar coma after this jam, but not from dicky tummies). I honestly rarely bother with the boiling water sterilisation thing, but then again I don't give these as gifts and they get eaten with a month or two so I'm happy with that.

So there you go - easy jam, except for the taking out the stones bit, which makes me think there must have been an easier way to do it that I just haven't heard about - but for 156 (or 146 - who knows) it was all sort of part of the meditative process of Sunday cooking.

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