“You have to be quick to get hold of damsons, though, and it’s best to know someone with a tree. “
-Diana Henry, Roast Figs, Sugar Snow
We began our annual September damson gin production line many years ago more by luck than design.
At that time we were living in London, urban beings living off food encased in sterile plastic and drink in sealed bottles. Some friends invited us to their place in the country (I can’t even remember where it was exactly) and the weekend was fraught from start to finish. We were the only guests, and became the audience to bitter rows between our hosts, interspersed by quieter periods when one or other of them was absent and the grim, tight-lipped remaining partner muttered darkly or wept silently.
The effect on us was to kindle a fierce determination to get on splendidly with each other. A damson picking expedition was proposed and we entered into the activity in a competitive frenzy, working seamlessly with each other’s strengths and weaknesses (height difference mostly!) to build up mountains of the plum-dark, resin-oozing fruit.
Lugging our overflowing buckets back to the war zone where we were staying we were dismayed to discover that we were expected to take the fruit back to London with us. It seemed criminal to throw our booty away but I’m not really a jam-maker, so …. what to do with it all?
Another rural friend suggested damson gin, assuring me that it was really simple and the result eminently drinkable. Thankfully, she turned out to be spot on. When we moved out the country ourselves and found we bought a damson tree along with the house the gin making began in earnest.
Where to buy damson gin ready-made
If you don’t want to make it yourself, the best to buy is Sloemotion’s – go to this post to see how this is made and why it’s so good.
Two things you can do to embellish your damson gin
- add amaretto
- add cassis (ideally British cassis)
What to eat with your damson gin
Devils on Horseback is the ideal accompaniment – the prunes (dried plums) go well with their damson cousins.
You can also use damson gin in your cooking: try Gammon and Gin.
Recipe for Damson Gin
You need damsons; gin; caster sugar; almonds
1. Before you start make sure you have plenty of free freezer space and a really good supply (about eight bottles) of cheap gin, of caster sugar, and a selection of wide-mouthed, glass containers (I use jugs, and vases but you could use large kilner jars). Because you will use the gin bottles to bottle your fruit-infused gin you might want to choose a brand with clear glass to show off the beautiful amethyst colour of the spirit.
2. In September (the exact week will depend on earlier frosts and summer heat) pick your damsons…some will have begun to drop, others may have split and be just beginning to weep syrup.
3. Wash them well, remove any leaves and stalks, spread out on tea towels and leave to dry for an hour or two. Then put them into freezer bags and freeze until they split. If you’re in a tearing hurry you could prick with a fork instead of freezing.
4. When you are ready to make the gin, sterilise your glass containers (go here to find out how). When they’re cool simply fill each container a bit under half full with the fruit. If you are a beginner at this weigh the fruit in each container. Then add about a third of the weight of the fruit in sugar. Then top up to the top of the container, leaving enough space to comfortably stir, with gin.
5. Add six peeled almonds to each container.
6. SAVE THE GIN BOTTLES!
7. Cover the mouths of the containers with cling film.
8. About once a week or so you should stir each container… I am ashamed to say that I don’t do this!
9. Your gin will be ready in the New Year…one year we didn’t get around to the bottling stage until July – the extra steeping time didn’t seem to significantly improve the taste.
10. When you come to bottling, sterilise your gin bottles and leave them to cool.
11. Drain your gin away from the fruit into a large jug. TASTE. Carefully add sugar, continuing to taste all the time – you don’t want it to become too sweet, easy to do if you start cavalierly adding in sugar in untended quantities.
12. Once happy with the taste strain the fruit through a muslin lined funnel into the gin bottles. EXPECT THIS TO BE A VERY MESSY, STICKY PROCESS.
Follow this link for how to sterilise bottles.