Last week Martin and I went for a wander around the lanes near our house and collected five pounds of lovely blackberries. I came home tired and happy with thoughts of jam making in my mind. As we got close to home I could see a bright plastic bag hanging on the front door. My lovely friend Lizzi had clearly been out foraging too and had left me, not only a mass of beautiful ripe damsons, but also a jar of her amazing damson jam. Yum. The potential to be creative and instant gratification all in one bag – quite a gift.
I set my blackberries aside and started on a batch of damson cheese.
I don’t really know why fruit cheeses are called “cheese” (answers on a postcard to…). They are really a kind of thick, sliceable jam made using just fruit and sugar. They are incredibly simple to make but, like all good things, take a little time. Once made they taste amazing served in slices with cheese or cooked meats. You may be familiar with the Spanish membrillo which is a quince paste or “cheese” most usually served with Manchego cheese. This damson cheese works in much the same way but is particularly good with game, or a really mature cheddar or a soft, baked camembert or….
… well, it’s up to you really. If you can’t find damsons to pick in the wild ask your greengrocer, they should be in the shops just about now.
Oh, and I didn’t forget about the blackberries – watch this space…
Around 750g granulated sugar
Put the damsons in a large pan, I use a preserving pan but if you don’t have one any large, heavy based pan will do. Add 3 tablespoons of water and bring to a gentle simmer. Continue to simmer until all the fruit is soft, stir occasionally to make sure that it doesn’t stick..
Push the cooked damsons through a sieve to remove the skins and stones and capture all the juice and pulp in a large measuring jug. This may take a little time so put the radio on and enjoy it.
Measure the pulp and for every 500ml, add 350g sugar. Pour back into the preserving pan. Bring back to a simmer over a low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then cook gently, stirring regularly so it doesn’t stick. The “cheese” will reduce to a thick puree. You will know that it is ready when you drag a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan and the base stays clearly visible for a second or two. This stage can take up to an hour.
Pour a small amount of oil into a shallow plastic container and wipe it around with kitchen paper so that you leave the barest film on the surface. Pour in the “cheese” and leave to cool and set. Cover tightly with a lid and it will keep for a long time in the fridge.
Serve, cut into slices, with cheese or cooked meats.