Michelle Darmody - Baking with Damsons

Damsons have an old-world feel about them, the trees were often planted and harvested in grand old gardens or along country hedgerows. 

The fruit is very similar to plums, but without the redness of skin or pinkness of flesh.

Damsons have a more distinct, subtle flavour and a golden interiour. While on the tree the skin appears dusky grey in colour, but a quick rub brings up their dark purple sheen.

One suggestion for their unusual name is that they may have originally been cultivated in Damascus and then traveled towards our shores with the expansion of the Roman Empire.

Damsons, like most fruit that ripens in Autumn, ripen all at once, so you can find yourself having a delicious bounty, not knowing what to do with them all. Making jam or chutney is always a fail safe and makes the delectable taste last all year round.

There are three recipes included here that use damsons in different ways. You can just as easily substitute plums gram for gram if you wish to use them instead.

The sunken damson cake lasts very well in an airtight container for a few days but make sure that it is completely cool before sealing it into the tin.

For the Eton mess you can make the meringues a day or two in advance and break them up just before serving. There are also quite a few, very good, shop bought meringues available for a much quicker result.

I really enjoy the mixture of damson and rosewater in this dessert.

You can add a little more rosewater to the whipped cream if you wish to strengthen the taste.

Make sure the rose petals you use are from edible petals that do not have pesticides on them.

The final recipe is harnessing and combining some wonderful tastes of late Autumn, the damsons combined with blackberry, star anise and cinnamon make for a very warming, comforting treat.

Sunken damson cake

  • 175g of butter
  • 120g of golden syrup
  • 160g muscovado sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 190mls of milk
  • 300g of self raising flour
  • 1 level tsp of bread soda
  • 2 tsp of powdered ginger
  • 1 tsp of cake spice
  • 450g of damsons, stoned and sliced

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees. Line a nine inch round loose base cake tin with parchment.

Melt the butter, syrup and most of the sugar (set aside 1 tbs for sprinkling) in a saucepan. Once they are completely combined set aside to cool. Mix the eggs and milk together.

Sieve the bread soda, ginger and cake spice with the flour.

Mix the eggs into the cooled butter and sugar mixture, then stir in the flour and mix well.

Scoop the mixture into the prepared tin and dot the slices of damsons in a circular pattern, sprinkle with the remaining sugar over the top of the cake.

Bake for 45 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

Damson and rosewater Eton Mess

  • 1 tsp of white vinegar
  • 4 egg whites
  • 115g of caster sugar
  • 115g of icing sugar, sieved
  • 300g of damsons
  • 100 mls of honey
  • 4 tsp of rose water
  • 200 mls of cream
  • a handful of edible rose petals

Preheat the oven to 100 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment. Wipe down the bowl and whisk of an electric mixer with the vinegar, to make sure they are completely clean of any grease.

Whisk the egg whites with the whisk attachment until they have formed stiff peeks.

Turn the mixer down to its lowest setting and add the caster sugar a tablespoon at a time.

Turn off your mixer once the caster sugar has been added and then gently fold in the icing sugar, a third at a time.

Spoon the meringue mixture onto the baking tray, you will be breaking the meringues up so the size is not too important.

What is important is to make them all even.

I make them about three inches in width and bake them for an hour and a half.

They will need to be pale golden in colour and hollow when you tap them underneath.

While the meringues are baking, add the damsons, honey and rose water to a saucepan and simmer gently until they are soft.

Whip the cream and serve with the broken meringues - once they have cooled - and the stewed damsons, sprinkle with the edible rose petals and serve.

Sugar plum drop scones

  • 140g of self-raising flour
  • 1 tbs of caster sugar
  • 1 tsp of grated cinnamon
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp of vanilla essence
  • 150 mls of milk
  • 200g of damsons, stoned and sliced
  • 100g of golden sugar
  • 2 star anise - optional
  • 200g of blackberries
  • 100 mls of honey
  • butter for frying

Add the flour, caster sugar, cinnamon and salt to a bowl and mix well. Mix the egg and vanilla into the milk and lightly beat.Mix the milk mixture into the flour until completely combined. Cover and set aside in the fridge.

Add the damsons and sugar into a heavy based saucepan (and star anise if you are using it), put a lid on the saucepan and simmer over a low heat for ten minutes. Add the blackberries and honey and continue to simmer without the lid for another five minutes (remove the star anise if you have used them).

Melt a thin layer of butter in a frying pan until it is starting to foam. Whisk the batter with a hand whisk and spoon a generous soup-spoon of the batter into the waiting pan.

Turn once golden on the underside. Keep the drop scones warm while cooking the rest of the batch. Once you have made them all serve with the compote and some natural yogurt.


More in this Section

Keep your Christmas dinner healthy with some fermented mustard

Restaurant review: Ferrit & Lee revamped - and rebooted

Eat & Move: Avoid the crowds by using Irish online companies

The Menu: Eat Together, Cork Food Policy Council, Good Things restaurant & Irish Biltongs


Lifestyle

No wee feat: Daniel back in the charts with new album this Christmas

The League Of Gentlemen sketch troupe back on TV screens after 15 years

Get ready for the Jedi in latest Star Wars instalment

A heavy burden for such young shoulders caring for parents this Christmas

More From The Irish Examiner