A fruit cheese is denser than a jam, softer than a fruit leather. If you’re familiar with membrillo, or quince cheese, you’ll get the idea. Damsons are easier than quince to source and I reckon the result is just as good.
Dust squares with sugar to serve as a sweetmeat, channel your inner Elizabethan housewife and cut it into fancy shapes, or just slice it to serve with cheese, pâté or charcuterie. It’s good melted into sauces, especially with lamb or game, and some cooks dice it to add a fruity bite to a muffin mix.
Set it in lightly oiled (sterilised/recently dishwashered) shallow plastic pots or small jars with wide tops and sloping sides so it turns out easily. You could also try chocolate moulds for cute shapes. The latter don’t last as well because they dry out and go a bit crystallised-sugary but generally, well wrapped, it will keep for months in the fridge.
You can bulk out your damsons with apples: I used a ratio of two-thirds damsons to one-third apples here. Any more and you start to lose the damsons’ unique flavour.
I stoned the damsons before I cooked them as I find that easier than picking the pits out afterwards. I used a cherry stoner, a recent tip from a reader, Peter. It’s one of those wrinkles that seems so obvious once someone else has pointed it out, you wonder why you never thought of it for yourself. What Rachel Roddy calls an a-ha moment.
I did however stew the pits (in a bag) with the fruit. I think it adds to the flavour but as Peter pointed out (see the comments in my bullace gin post) the pits of stoned fruit contain cyanide. More accurately, the kernels inside the stones contain small amounts of amygdalin, which can turn to cyanide during digestion.
Amygdalin is said to be destroyed by cooking and in any case we’re not cracking the pits here (although the kernels are used in the manufacture of the French liqueur noyaux and it’s fairly common practice to put a few peach and apricot kernels in jams made with these fruits). I think the possibility of poisoning my family and friends is remote, but if it worries you, leave out the pits. Sorry to be so long-winded but as Peter raised the issue I thought it was worth addressing.
Damson and Apple Cheese
A quantity of damsons
Half their weight in apples (optional)
Granulated sugar (see recipe for quantities)
A small knob of butter
A little almond oil or other neutral-flavoured oil for the moulds
Stone the damsons and put them in a large pan with the chopped apples (no need to peel and core, you’ll be sieving it all later and their pectin helps with the set). Add the pits tied in a bag, if you’re using them.
Add just enough water to barely cover the fruit, place on the stove, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook gently for 20-30 minutes until the damson are soft and the apples have broken up.
Remove from the heat and once cool enough to handle, put the fruit through a mouli – I use a medium disc – or push it through a sieve. It’s a good idea to lightly oil your moulds now, as you won’t have time later.
Measure the pulp and for every 600ml, add 450g of sugar. Put everything in a clean pan, preferably wide-bottomed, and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Adding a knob of butter helps reduce any scum. Bring to a boil and continue to cook on a medium heat, stirring often, until the mixture begins to thicken.
At this point you’ll need to stir continuously to stop it catching. Cook it until you can draw a furrow through it with a wooden spoon and see the bottom of the pan. You’ll eventually feel a big difference in texture as you stir it. Please note this can take at least an hour (not 10-20 minutes as I saw in one online recipe – they must have been making jam) and maybe even longer, depending on quantities. Mine took about 45 minutes on this occasion.
Once you’ve reached that point, take it off the heat and pour it into your pots. Cover with waxed discs (if using jam jars) or lightly oiled greaseproof paper, which helps stop it drying out too much over time. As soon as it’s cold – you don’t want any condensation in there – seal it and keep in the fridge.