Saturday, 19 October 2013

Damson Gin

If you’ve been lurking around in the country recently, you may well have come across a bush covered in what looks like lots of little, purple plums.  If you’ve been particularly foolhardy, you may have plucked one and given it a try, spitting out the flesh that is described as having a “distinctive, somewhat astringent taste”.  If this sounds like you, then you’ve probably stumbled upon a damson bush.  They look a bit like this:


If Edwin Starr questioned “war, what is it good for?” then, over the years, I expect many a horticulturalist has asked the same of the damson.  Fortunately, unlike Edwin’s refrain, ‘quite a lot’ is the answer.

Growing wild in abundance throughout its native England, the humble damson is – in most cases, although I’m told that there are some sweeter varieties – inedible in their raw state.  They have, therefore, become the subject of countless pickles, chutneys, preserves, jams, etc.  GrubsterMummy, for example, does an exceptional in canned damsons, stewing them in all manner of spices, sugars and vinegars, which then preserve them, seemingly for time immemorial, ready to be dug out and applied liberally to any cold meat or hard cheese.

I am not, GrubsterMummy, however, so when I hear of damsons my mind immediately drifts to gin.  That’s right, damson gin. 

A bit like sloe gin, but without quite as much sugar (the humble damson, despite it’s tartness, being slightly sweeter than the acrid sloe), steeping damsons in cheap gin for an unreasonable period will create a delightful liqueur.  Here’s how:

Ingredients:


150g granulated sugar
500g damsons
75cl gin (or vodka, which I did last year.  I’ll let you know which one’s better once this has matured!)

You’re also going to need a big ass kilner jar for this – at least 1.5 litres.  The damsons take up quite a lot of room, and you got to get a whole bottle of gin in there.  To give you an idea, the jar I use in the pictures is 3 litres – and I’m doubling the recipe (and adding a little bit, but whatever).

A word on sourcing damsons (it’s not like you’ll find them on the supermarket shelf): A colleague at work recently bemoaned a glut of damsons she was living through, so I got mine free.  If you have access to a bit of country, you might be able to forage – but (a) make sure you’re absolutely certain you’re picking damsons – never, never, never eat something wild if you’re not positive what it is; and (b) please ask before stripping other people’s fruit trees!  You never know, they may be just about to do the same thing...

By the way, this recipe is adapted from Cottage Smallholder, which is a fantastic blog if you're in the mood for making any kind of fruit-based liquer.  If you want to do it, chances are that Fiona's got there first.

1. Wash the damsons, discarding any that have split or are badly bruised, and let them dry on a tea towel.  Simultaneously, sterilize the jar.  The easiest way to do this, I find, is to pre-heat the oven to 130°C, wash the jar well in hot water, and let dry.  Once dry, remove the rubber seal, and leave the jar upside down in the oven for 20 minutes.  Remove (with oven gloves!) and leave somewhere safe to cool.  Careful to avoid getting your grubby mitts all over it now...

2.  Each damson needs to be pricked, which is a right pain.  Just wait until we do sloe gin, though – they’re a lot smaller, and there are a lot more of them, so count ya blessings.  I find that gripping each one top and tail and revolving it whilst stabbing it with a fork is both an efficient and satisfying approach.  Drop each one into the jar once pricked.



3.  Add the gin and the sugar, seal the puppy up (don’t forget the rubber seal) and give it a good shake.  Keep those gin bottles (seriously).

On the gin front, I just used the budget version from Sainsburys.  I genuinely think that this recipe gains absolutely nothing from spending a lot on gin.

4. For the first few weeks it needs to be agitated every day or so.  I don’t mean that you need to make rude jokes about it and shove it around the playground – that’s a different kind of agitation.  No, it needs to be gentle mixed – I do this by rocking it back and forth.  You’ll notice the colour change each day as you go through the process.


Left to right: Zero days, one day, three days, one week.

Agitate regularly until there’s no more sugar residue at the bottom of the jar.

5. Wait.

6. No, seriously.  You need to wait at least three months now  preferably six.  Make sure your jar is kept in a cool, dark place.  We use the cupboard under the stairs  no need for a wine cellar or anything like that, although if have one it can't hurt.

7. In three months time, remember it’s still there.  This is actually harder than it sounds – last year I forgot it for nine months.   Oops.  Still, no harm done – although I’m told that  forgetting about it can lead to it taking on a nasty, metallic almond flavour – which, presumably, it gets from the stones.  So try to remember it. 

8. Once you have remembered, pass it through a muslin cloth.  Resist the temptation to squeeze it – otherwise you’ll end up with a lot of nasty gunk at the bottom of your bottle.  Then bottle it – you see why I had you keep the bottles?  But, here’s the rub: the liqueur is now all of the gin plus the damson juice and the sugar.  So it aint never gonna fit in your original bottle.  So make sure you’re prepared for this – by sourcing a spare bottle.

9. Wait.  Again.

10. No, seriously, wait again.  It needs to mature in the bottle.  Hey, I never said this was a quick process, did I?  No, you’re basically making 2013 vintage for winter 2014.  Another 3 months or so as a bare minimum should do the trick.

And that’s it.  Stick the stuff in bottles and give it as Christmas presents, or just glug it down.



 - GrubsterBoy

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