Damsons, gages and plums are all stone fruits that thrive in sheltered, warm gardens. Although they all bear the same basic type of fruit, their taste varies from tart and spicy, to sweet and perfumed. All these have their uses, so the final choice is usually a personal one. Damsons are used for a variety of products - from jams, jellies and chutneys to wine and Damson Gin.
Originally damsons came from the area around Damascus, hence the name. Some say the Crusaders brought back damson stones to try in England. Damson trees are often found around sites of Roman camps - perhaps the Romans introduced them to Britain. Damson stones were found in a bag round the waist of a 4000 year-old 'Ice Man' uncovered recently in the Alps.
Damson stones have been excavated at the Viking Yorvick centre at York. I came across this damson relish in a very old, recipe book that I found in an antique shop.
Ingredients450 g damsons
8 tbsp light soft brown sugar
100 ml water
6 tbsp olive oil
1 lemon, juice only, or to taste
1 large red chilli, finely chopped
1 medium red onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 vine tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
3 tbsp finely chopped coriander3 tbsp red wine vinegar
Wash and remove stalks from the damsons
Tip the damsons into a large saucepan, sprinkle over the brown sugar and the water
Bring to a simmer over a medium heat and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the damsons are tender.
While the damsons are simmering, mix all of the remaining ingredients together in a bowl.
Season with salt and black pepper and mix well.
When the damsons are cooked and cool enough to handle, remove the stones.
Discard the stones and tip the damsons into the bowl with the other ingredients and stir to combine
Serve warm or cold with hot or cold meats, cold roast chicken or cheeses.