I will never forget a particular late summer day I visited All Hallows. This was at a time when my friend Helen lived in the farmhouse. She has been gathering damsons from the tree in the walled garden and had been working in the kitchen for several hours to make this preserve.
Helen was a formidable character and although my visit was planned, she was obviously tired at the end of the day. Passing me a small ramekin that had been filled to the brim with a glossy jelly ‘You can try this Lisa’ she said ‘but only take a little, as it has taken me all day to make!’ Not wishing to offend her but equally nervous of taking a little too much, I tentatively helped myself to a soupcon of the firmly set, damson cheese.
It had a fine aroma that was rich and plummy with almost a hint of liquorice and was the colour of port. Helen was a great cook and the effort to make this delicious accompaniment had been well worth it.
For my recipe, in memory of my dear friend, you will need…
Pick over 1.35 kg (3 lb) damsons and add them to a large lidded pan with 300 ml (half pint) water, place the pan on the AGA boiling plate or over a high heat on your conventional hob, bring the water to the boil. Place the lidded pan in the simmering oven and continue cooking the fruit until it is soft or reduce the heat on your conventional stove and allow the fruit to simmer very gently so that it does not catch. Check it regularly so that the fruit does not boil dry.
When the fruit is soft, pass the flesh through a fine sieve and reserve.
Measure the pulp and for every 600 ml or (1 pint) of fruit, weigh 25 g (1 oz) unsalted butter and 450 g (1 lb) cane sugar. Place everything into a clean, preserving pan and place over the simmering plate or a low heat and stir carefully to ensure the sugar is completely dissolved and the butter is melted.
Increase the heat and bring to setting point. Test with a sugar thermometer to check the preserve has reached 104.5 C
Pot into sterilized jars and label when cool.
For every 450 g (1 lb) sugar, this recipe should make 750 g (1 lb 6 oz) fruit preserve or ‘cheese’.
This recipes is equally as delicious with greengages and cooking plums.