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Last weekend I made a frankly delicious batch of Damson Jam. Rich, jewel-like, and with the perfect set and with a wonderfully unique flavour that caught that wonderful balance between sweetness and acidity you should find in all good jars of homemade jam. Usually at this time of year I’m picking and potting up all of the blackberries from our Kentish hedgerows, but last week I had a phone call. Did I want some of the many kilos of damsons my parents gardener had picked off his sisters tree to make gin with?
Obviously I said yes, and I’ve got 450g of damsons nestled in the freezer waiting for the gin to arrive from Ocado. However, when I heard my Dad planned to make some damson jam as well as the damson wine he’d planned, I took a few extra damsons to give it a go myself, too.
It turns out that definitive recipes for damson jam are hard to find, and there are a lot of different opinions out there! While there is a little debate if you should use jamming sugar with added pectin given that damsons contain an awful lot of pectin already (spoiler alert: you don’t, I made a jam with a perfect set using just golden caster sugar) the main thing everyone seems to have differing ideas about is how to remove the stones.
I called my Dad to discuss this, and it turned out he’d done all the same research I did, and read all the same online articles, guides and blog posts as I had. Damsons are tricky little buggers, with pits stuck fast in the middle. Apparently. The two schools of thought seemed to be that you needed to remove the pits before jam making, or after, just before jarring. I did see some suggestions that you ought to just leave them in and warn any guests, but I see that as just a little bit lazy – if you’re going to the effort to make homemade jam to enjoy, serve or gift, why not do the thing properly?
My Dad opted for the fishing the stones out before jarring method, but warned me that while this was simple, it meant that his jam overcooked a little as he was too focused on getting the stones out of the jam so it went a bit far and as a result he ended up with a very solid set.
So, I decided to do it by hand. A great tip I saw was to use a cherry pitter to do this, but not being in possession of one, I simply took a sharp knife, put on an audiobook and set about halving and pitting them. Honestly, if you’re not worried about getting sticky fingers, it was not as difficult as some guides and recipes I read made it out to be. A few of the softer damsons yielded their stones easily, and others did so just leaving a little bit of flesh clinging to them. Again, I read articles concerned about wasting this bit that gets left behind and won’t make it into the jam, but honestly, if you’re looking to make damson jam you’re not going out to buy damsons, you either have a tree or a friend with one, so I’d not worry about it. Just be sure to weigh your damsons after you’ve pitted them and not before to get a good set.
If you’re new to jam making but you’re looking to give it a go to deal with a garden or gifted glut, as well as following this simple recipe I do recommend you hop on over and read my guide on How To Start Making Homemade Jams I wrote after taking Borough Kitchen’s jam and chutney course, where I go into a lot more detail about different ways to sterilise jars, ways to test the setting point of your jam with and without a jam thermometer, and if you’re looking to make other jams, what jam sugar and pectin can do to make sure your jam has the perfect set.
Homemade damson jam is the perfect way to deal with a damson glut, and has a beautiful set, a unique flavour and looks jewel-like in the jar. This recipe makes two large, or two medium and one small jar of jam.
Combine the halved damsons and the water in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan or jamming pan. Set over a medium high heat and bring to the boil. Simmer for 8-10 minutes until the fruit has broken down into a puree and the mixture has turned a vibrant, jewel-like purple.
Stir in the sugar until it has completely dissolved. Raise the heat to high and bring to the boil, cooking the jam, stirring often to make sure it does not burn on the bottom of the pan for about 10 minutes. If you’re using a sugar thermometer, you’ll get a good set between 102-104 degrees. If not, around the 8 minute mark drop a little jam onto one of your frozen plates and leave it for about 20 seconds. Then, draw your finger through the jam. If it stays in place and does not flow back into the space you’ve created, your jam is done. I like to use both tests, just to be sure!
Remove the jam from the heat and leave it to stand for 5 minutes before transferring to your warm, sterilised jars and securing the lids. This waiting time will help you get an even pot of jam, as it will stop the damson pieces still in the jam from all sinking to the bottom once it is potted.
Be sure to weigh your damsons after pitting them, not before.
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