It’s plum season here in the UK, and the little jewels are everywhere: Victoria, green gage, and the famous damsons. I hadn’t heard much about damsons before I came over here, but they’re big on this side of the pond, and very popular with jam makers. They’re considered too sour to eat alone (and they’re too small to serve as much of a snack anyway, being about the size of a very large grape) but they pair beautifully with all sorts of flavourings and foods. Being a jammer myself, I thought I’d give these “soor plooms” a go.
Off to the greengrocers’ I went to stock up, and stock up I did, so much I ended up making two recipes: ice cream and jam. Jam first.
Most of the recipes I found for damson jam were pretty straightforward: plums plus sugar, maybe some water. But I can’t leave well enough alone, so I started thinking of what I could add to really make the plum flavors sing. Plums are a good stout fruit that can hold their own against warmer, more aggressive spices like clove, so I decided to go that route, but kick it up by using one of my favourite spice blends: Chinese Five Spice. The combination of star anise, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, cloves and fennel would at least be interesting, I figured. So, I gave it a go, and after quite a bit of tweaking (and the addition of a couple of extra spices), I had a jam I was proud of. Tangy, warming, plummy: delicious.
Seven-Spice Damson Plum Jam
For the sake of those who have more or less damsons than I did, I tried to keep the proportions in the recipe even so it’s easier to scale up or down as necessary. Also, feel free to mess around with spice proportions, or leave the spices out altogether. Jam’s fairly forgiving when it comes to flavourings, so experiment away!
500 g (about 1 lb) damson plums, washed
1/2 cup water or black tea
1-2 c sugar (depending on your tastes)
1 T Chinese Five Spice powder
1/2-1 tsp ground ginger (or use fresh ginger, peeled and chopped)
1/4 tsp ground allspice
Place the damsons and the water in a sturdy pot over medium heat. If you’re using fresh ginger, add that too. As they warm up, the plum skins will start to split. Simmer until the plums have all split open and gotten nice and soft (about 20-30 mins). Remove the pot from the heat and let the mixture cool until you can handle it without burning your hands.
Sift through the plum guts and remove all the stones (you can chop the plums ahead of time to avoid this step, but that’s a pain and I just can’t be bothered. Easier to do it this way). Once all the stones are out, add the plum guts, peels, ginger (if you’re using fresh), and accumulated juices to a food processor (or use a hand blender) and process until smooth. Add it all back to the pot.
Place the pot back over medium heat and add the spices and sugar. If you prefer your jam on the tangy side, use the smaller amount of sugar and adjust as you go. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the jam has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon (about another 25-30 minutes). Test for deliciousness and adjust spices/sweetener as necessary.
If you’re canning for later use, go ahead and do that while the jam’s hot. If not, cool jam at room temperature, then store in the fridge.
Uses: This jam is good with a wide variety of dishes. Scrape it onto some toast for a delicious snack or breakfast, swirl it through whipped cream for a lovely ice cream topping, or serve with duck or other meats (I can tell you from experience, this is fabulous with duck). Enjoy!