Calling Damson Cooks, Both Amateur and Pro: A Damson Competition for You

The ‘Damson Days 2014’ Damson Competition

A damson competition rounds off ‘Damson Days 2014’.  The competition is open to both amateur (home) cooks and professionals.

damsons galore
What Could You Do With These Damsons?

The theme is ‘anything damson‘, which means that you can enter anything from a traditional damson recipe to an avant garde damson recipe. And also, your entry could be your favourite damson jam or jelly or gin. Or vodka. Or your favourite damson chutney or curd or mincemeat. Or damson chocolate truffles; they work well too.

Damson liver parfait with damson brioche? That spectacular dish won the prize in our previous damson competition. What you enter really is down to your imagination.

A Stash of Just-Picked Damsons: Ripe With Possibilities.
A Stash of Just-Picked Damsons: Ripe With Possibilities.

What You Need to do to Take Part

Bring your damson competition entry to the Ludlow Local Produce market on Thursday, 9th October 2014 by 10am. Label your entry with:

  • your name and contact details
  • the category you are entering (amateur or pro)
  • the name of your dish
  • the ingredients in your dish

The competition entries will be judged between 10am and 12 noon. The winners of both categories will be announced, and the prizes awarded, at 12 noon.

You’d be mad not to take part because there’s no point in hiding your damson light under a bushel.

Entry is free.

Here is a summary of the key points:

  • the competition is open to amateur and pro cooks/chefs
  • the theme is ‘damson anything’, which literally means what it says
  • bring your entry to the Ludlow Local Produce Market on Thursday 9th of October by 10am
  • winners are announced on the day at 12 noon
  • prizes are awarded shortly after 12 noon


Turn Your Labour of Love into Something Damson Delicious.
Turn Your Labour of Love into Something Damson Delicious.

Damson Wine

There’s something magical about turning the natural sugars in damsons into alcohol.

You need just a few ingredients including the damsons themselves, some sugar, yeast, water, and actually, that’s about it.

Time and temperature play a vital role, too.

Shropshire Prune Damson Wine. Wildly Delicious.
Shropshire Prune Damson Wine. Wildly Delicious.

Damson wine (or my damson wine) is adamantly alcoholic. It’s more port-like than wine-like. And the longer you leave it — three, four, even five years — the better it tastes.

Damson Muffins

Damsons are especially good in muffins because if you don’t sweeten them too much you can achieve a nice balance between the sweetness of the muffin mix and the tartness of the damsons.

Damson Muffins Nearly Ready for the Oven
Damson Muffins Nearly Ready for the Oven

You can do a little swirl of the damson compote to commingle the damson and muffin mix a little.

Damson Compote Commingling With the Muffin Mix.
Damson Compote Commingling With the Muffin Mix.

The baked damson muffins go well with baked flaked almonds.

Damson Muffins
Damson Muffins

Oh to Have a Pig! Spent Damsons

What to do with spent damsons?

These damsons in the steamer juicer have given up their juice.

They would be perfect fodder for pigs, if only I had pigs.

Instead, they’ll make a good base for an alcoholic liqueur. One or two might even find themselves enveloped in dark chocolate.

(Not Really) Spent Damsons in the Steamer Juicer
(Not Really) Spent Damsons in the Steamer Juicer

Damson Syrup: The Philosopher of Syrups

Damsons make a fine fruit syrup. It’s the philosopher of fruit syrups: it’s deep.

To make a damson syrup you take some damsons, extract the juice and cook that juice with sugar.

By regulating the temperature at which you cook the damson and sugar mix you can produce a thin or thick syrup. The higher the temperature, the thicker the syrup, and so the more viscous it is, obviously. And the more viscous it is, the more it will cling to, for example, vanilla or nut ice-cream, duck, venison or anything else you would like to glaze with the rich flavour of damson.

Damson Syrup Made With the Shropshire Prune Variety.
Damson Syrup Made With My Very Own Shropshire Prune Variety of Damson.

Damsons Products that Won Gold Stars in the 2014 Great Taste Awards

Bravo, bravo, BRAVO! The food and drink producers who won gold stars in the Guild of Fine Food Great Taste Awards 2014  have just been announced. And sweet and savoury food and drink products made with damsons have won several of these precious gold stars.

There’s an entry from Ireland, namely, WIld Food Mary’s Damson Vodka.

There’s a damson jam with the stones left in (a minimally processed jam, perhaps, and one with the hint of almond from the damson stone … I’m guessing).

There’s a ‘Damson Port Liqueur’, a new category to me that sounds deliciously rich.

There’s a damson vinegar, one of the finest fruit vinegars you can make and taste, and one that that can easily square up to the finest balsamics from Modena.

Then there’s ‘Damson Daize’, a non-alcoholic drink, now an award-winning drink, made by one of our very own Shropshire-based damsonistas, Tish Dockerty, from Appleteme. Well done, Tish! You’ve done the Shropshire Prune damson proud.

Here is a list of the damson winners, along with a link to their website (if available).

Three Star Winners

Damson & Sloe Gin Ice Cream, made by Just Rachel Quality Desserts

Damson Port Liqueur, made by Raisthorpe Manor Fine Food Ltd

Two Star Winners

Damson Vodka, made by Wild Food Mary

One Star Winners

Damson Gin, made by Alder Tree Ltd

Damson Cheese, made by Just Williams

‘Damson Daize’, made by Appleteme

Sweet Damson Vinegar, made by Stratta

Damson Jam (includes fruit stones), made by Rosebud Preserves

Damson Extra Jam, made by Cottage Delight

Damson Fruit Cheese, made by The Sweetmeat Company

Congratulations everyone. Let’s hope your awards bring in excellent sales and well-deserved recognition.

How to Identify “Bent Banana Disease” / “Pocket Plum Disease” in Damsons

What is “Pocket Plum” / “Bent Banana Disease”?

There’s a fungal disease that infects damsons that’s known by various names, including:

  • “bent banana disease”
  • “plum pocket”
  • “bladder plums”

Its Latin name is Taphrina pruni (“taphre” is Greek for trench or ditch).

This disease is fatal to damson fruits and so can seriously reduce your damson yield. It can be summed up in two words: grotesque deformity.

In ten years of growing damsons I’ve come across the occasional pocket plum-blighted damson. But this year,  2014, has been the worst ever.

In my patch on the Herefordshire-Shropshire border, every damson tree in my orchard and in the hedges in my meadow was infected to some extent. I estimate I’ve lost maybe as much as a fifth of my crop. That’s a lot of damsons to lose.

Where to Learn More About Pocket Plum

The web is a rich source of information on this disease. So, if you’d like to learn about the epidemiology, aetiology, symptoms and treatment of pocket plum you could always check out these sites:

When I spotted the arrival of pocket plum this year I took some photos to record how the natural history of this disease evolves.

What Does Pocket Plum Look Like?

Most commonly, the signs of pocket plum are seen on the fruitlets.

The first sign of infection is small spots on the fruitlet.

Blisters of damson pocket plum disease
The first sign that something is amiss: the small, apparently innocuous spots of pocket plum on damson fruitlets.

Next, these spots develop into small white blisters.

Blister of pocket plum on damson fruitlets
Pocket plum blisters have appeared.

Now, the infamous deformity caused by pocket plum is also becoming apparent. Also, notice how neighbouring damsons are healthy and normal in size, shape and colour.

pocket plum disease and blisters
The small blister-like spots of pocket plum in association with deformity of the fruit.

Next, a white spore layer forms on the surface of the fruitlet. When you squeeze the flesh of the damson it feels unappetisingly spongy.

Photo showing the spore layer on a damson infected with pocket plum.
The white spore layer of pocket plum on an infected damson fruitlet.

One of the features of pocket plum disease is that it there is no stone inside the fruit: it’s just a cavity.

Another feature is that the diseased fruitlet grows at an alarming rate. It’s as if the division stage of the cell cycle is out of control. Elongation is the name of the game.

Photo of a damson severely elongated due to pocket plum disease.
A pocket plum-infected damson that is several times its normal size.

Next, the diseased fruitlet starts to turn brown. Folds and fissures also deepen.

Photo of deformity of pocket plum disease on a damson
Brown patches start to appear on the infected fruit.

Here you can see how much bigger the infected damson is compared with a typical healthy damson. Notice, too, how flat it is; inside is just a hollow with no nutritious fruit flesh.

Photo of a damson infected with pocket plum that is curved like a banana.
The infected damson curls into the shape of a small banana. Hence the name “bent banana disease”.

The brown plaques become more extensive.

Photo showing the dried, brown deformity of bent banana disease on a damson.
The diseased damson gradually turns brown and then grey and dries out.

Eventually, this diseased damson will fall off the tree.

What Should You do if Your Damson Tree Develops Pocket Plum?

A  summary of the sources mentioned earlier suggest three actions you should take if you spot pocket plum on your damsons:

1. Removed diseased fruits promptly and burn them.

2. Cut off any diseased twigs and burn them.

3. Check for diseased decaying matter under the tree and burn it.

You could spray with Bordeaux mixture in early Spring, but this is not deemed effective.

The key message is not to panic if you spot pocket plum on your damson tree.

Your tree won’t die and it will continue to produce fruit.

Have you ever spotted pocket plum on your damsons? If so, what effect did have on your crop and how did you deal with it?

Please leave a comment below.

Announcing Damson Days 2014

Here you will find information about Damson Days 2014.

This post is updated regularly, so please check again for updates.

You can read about:

  • the dates for Damson Days 2014
  • events at the launch event at the Ludlow Local Produce Market, including the chefs’ demos and the damson competition
  • the catering and food retail venues that are taking part

When and Where Damson Days 2014 is Taking Place

If you’re a damson afficionado, or even if you’re not, you’ll know that damsons are a true autumn fruit.

It’s apt, therefore, to celebrate these lovely blue-black bombs of flavoursome fruits in the autumn time.

So, in Ludlow, the unofficial capital of Shropshire, we’re holding a two-week celebration of the Shropshire Prune variety of damson.

Damson Days 2014 will take place between September 25th and October 9th, the midst of damson picking season.

The Shropshire Prune, as its name suggests, has a deep historical and socio-economic resonance with Shropshire. In fact, the Shropshire Prune goes back a long, long way — most likely as far back as when the Romans ruled. We’re pretty sure that the Romans brought the damson we know as the Shropshire Prune into (what we now call) the UK.

But don’t worry if you don’t know what variety of damson you’ve got in your garden because other damson varieties are more than welcome to the party too!

Here is a notice of the damson celebration.

Celebration of damsons in 2014 in Shropshire image

Information About the Launch Event

The fortnight of damson celebration kicks off at the Ludlow Local Produce Market on Thursday, 25th of September. Come along to:

  • get recipe ideas for what to do with your damson glut
  • taste damsons, if you’ve never tasted them before
  • watch professional chefs cook with damsons
  • enter your damson product(s) in a damson competition
  • find out more about the variety of damson you have growing in your garden
  • taste a range of delicious sweet, savoury and tipsy damson products from local artisan producers
  • find out more about the history and cultural significance of the Shropshire Prune variety of damson
  • learn about why the Shropshire Prune damson is the only damson in the Slow Food Ark of Taste
  • taste a variety of both sweet and savoury damson dishes in eating venues in and around the Ludlow area

Sweet and Savoury Damson Demonstrations, Including Damson (Sour)Doughs

Two local chefs as well as a local artisan baker will be cooking or providing sensationally delicious damson dishes at the Damson Days launch event on Thursday, 25th of September.

These three damson gurus are:

  • Robert Swift, artisan baker, from Richard C. Swift Ltd and owner of Bread2Bake. Robert will be showcasing baked goods made with damsons.
  • Chef Andy Link, Head Chef at The Riverside Inn, Aymestery, Herefordshire. Andy will be making a savoury damson dish.
  • Chef Nathan Eades, owner of Epi Restaurant in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. Nathan will be making a sweet damson dish.

Here is a little more information about each of these food pros to whet your appetite for damsons.

Artisan Baker Robert Swift

Robert Swift is a #realbread nut. A sixth-generation baker, Robert has a flair for incorporating local, seasonal ingredients into his breads and sweet dough products. As well as running Ludlow-based, masterclasses on bread making, Robert has written a book on bread, Born and Bread. His book comfortably straddles the “bread nerd”vs “stress-free baker” fence. It reveals the secrets of the gluten framework, and shows how to make a range of delicious sweet and savoury bread products in a down-to-earth way.

For Damson Days 2014 Robert is developing baked damson specialties including a sourdough based on fermented damsons.

Photo of the baker Robert Swift Standing beside his bread oven.
Robert Swift, Real Bread Maker of Swift’s Bakery in Shropshire.

Chef Andy Link

Chef Andy Link is not just Head Chef at the Riverside Inn at Aymestrey, he’s also a forager, a fruit grower and preserver, a vegetable grower and a bee keeper.


Chef Andy Link doing a demo at the Shopdon Food Festival 2014. Photo courtesy of the Riverside Inn's Facebook page.
Chef Andy Link doing a demo at the Shobdon Food Festival 2014. Photo courtesy of the Riverside Inn’s Facebook page.

Andy won Herefordshire Young Chef of the Year 2007 and pays meticulous attention to sourcing local ingredients. For example, he uses damsons from the trees in the orchard of the Riverside Inn to make a range of damson and other fruit preserves.

Image of bottles of fruit liqueurs made by Chef Andy Link at the Aymestrey Inn, Herefordshire
Local, Seasonal Fruit Liqueurs, from The Riverside Inn’s orchard. Photo courtesy The Riverside Inn’s Facebook page.

Chef Nathan Eades

Previously a chef in Ludlow, Nathan Eades has opened his own restaurant, Epi, in Bromsgrove. Nathan Eades’ culinary passion can be summed up in four words: flavour, wild food, technique.  Typically, Nathan will take seemingly banal, overlooked or forgotten ingredients like bronze fennel, chickweed, meadowsweet, nettles and, it has to be said, damsons, and use a touch of molecular gastronomy technique to coax out their distinctive and unique flavour. A couple of years ago Nathan, along with his colleague Chef David Jarram, made a dessert of sweet damson sushi and a raviolo of bittersweet chocolate ganache infused with Earl Grey tea.

Sweet Damson Sushi and a Raviolo of Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache with Earl Gray, Made by Chefs Nathan Eades and David Jarram
Sweet Damson Sushi and a Raviolo of Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache with Earl Grey. Made by Chefs Nathan Eades and David Jarram for the Ludlow Slow Food Taste Workshops.

Nathan is bringing his forager, Mike Wilkes, along for his sweet damson demo. Sweet damson treats await!


Eating Venues With Damson Dishes on the Menu and Retail Outlets Selling Damson Products During Damson Days 2014

Name of VenueContact DetailsDamson DishPhoto of Venue
The Cliffe at Dinham,
Restaurant with Rooms
Tel: 01584-872063
Damson Ripple Fool with Hazelnut Shortbread

Damson fool in a white china pot with hazelnut shortbread biscuits on the side.
Damson Ripple Fool With Hazelnut Shortbread
photo of the dining area in The Cliffe at Dinham, Ludlow
One of the Dining Areas in The Cliffe at Dinham, Restaurant With Rooms
The Green CafeMill on the Green
Tel: 01584-879872

Chef's Own Damson Vodka
Home Made Scones with Damson Jam
Photo showing the front of the Green Cafe, Ludlow
The Green Cafe, Ludlow
The Ludlow Brewing CompanyThe Railway Shed
Station Drive
Tel: 01584-873291
The Ludlow Brewing Company Will Serve an Award-Winning Damson and Apple Drink
photo showing Damson and Apple Drink at a Farmers' Market
Damson and Apple Drink, a Refreshing Non-Alcoholic Drink
image of the brewery at the Ludlow Brewing Co, Shropshire
The Ludlow Brewing Co, Ludlow
Ludlow Food CentreBromfield
image showing a spoon in a pot of damson yoghurt
Shropshire Prune Damson Yoghurt Made by Dudley and Paul with Damsons from the Ludlow Food Centre's Own Orchard.
Image showing the large glass-clad entrance to the Ludlow Food Centre
The Entrance to the Ludlow Food Centre
Chang Thai Bar and Restaurant3 Market Street
Tel: 01584-874212
Damson Dessert
photo showing the entrance to Chang Thai in Ludlow
The 'Coachway' Entrance to Chang Thai Restaurant, Ludlow
Thai dishes at Chang Thai, Ludlow
Some of the Dishes Served at Chang Thai, Ludlow
The Boot InnKitchen Hill road,
Tel: 01568-780228
Chef Martin Humphries, The Boot Inn, Orleton, Picking Shropshire Prune Damsons From the Boot's own Garden.
Image of damson crumble, damson parfait and damson Eaton mess
The Boot Inn Will Serve a Damson Trio: Damson and Apple Eton Mess, Iced Damson Parfait, Damson, White Chocolate and Roasted Macadamia Nut Crumble
The Olive Branch, Licensed Wholefood Restaurant and Coffee House2/4 Old St.
The Olive Branch will Serve Home Made Pork and Herb Terrine Platter with two Seasonal Salads, Local Bread, and The Olive Branch Homemade Damson Chutney
a crate of small plums known as damsons
Local Produce for Local People! Shropshire Prunes for Sale at the Market in Ludlow and Used in The Olive Branch Damson Chutney
the front of The Olive Branch in Ludlow
The Olive Branch, Ludlow
Harp Lane Deli
4 Church St
FB HarpLane
Damson Cheese and Other Damson Delights Prepared by Owners Hannah and Henry

Hannah and Henry Mackley, Owners of Harp Lane Deli, Ludlow. Damson Fanatics Both.
photo showing the exterior of Harp Lane Deli in Ludlow
Harp Lane Deli, Ludlow
Ludlow Pantry10 High St.
Ludlow Pantry Will Serve Cream Teas with Damson Jam
photo showing the food and drink products for sale at the Ludlow Pantry
The Array of Local Food and Drink Available at the Ludlow Pantry
photo showing the exterior of the Ludlow Pantry
The Ludlow Pantry
Baker's of Tower StreetTower St.
Baker's of Tower Street Will Serve a Homemade Damson Dish
photo showing the front of Baker's of Tower Street, Ludlow, Shropshire
Baker's of Tower Street, Ludlow. Photo Courtesy of Baker's of Tower Street Website.
The Entrance to Baker's of Tower Street, Ludlow.
Ludlow KitchenBromfield
Ludlow Kitchen Will Serve Two Damson Dishes: Stewed Damsons With Granola and Damson Cream Teas
damson jam, Rodda's clotted cream, scones and tea at the Ludlow Kitchen
Ludlow Kitchen's Damson Cream Tea: Shropshire Prune Damson Jam, Rodda's Clotted Cream, Home Made Scones and Your Choice of Tea
photo showing the outside of the Ludlow Kitchen in Shropshire
The Ludlow Kitchen
Old Downton LodgeDownton on the Rock
Old Downton Lodge Will Serve a Damson Dessert of Peanut Parfait, Brioche, Downton Damson Sorbet and Downton Damson Gel
Peanut Parfait, Brioche and Downton Damson Sorbet and Damson Gel. Photo courtesy of Head Chef Karl Martin.
The Dining Room at Old Downton Lodge, Near Ludlow

So, put these two weeks in your diary and please check back here for updates on Damson Days 2014.


Photo of damsons growing on the tree
Shropshire Prune damsons in early July 2014.


Damsons ripening and turning purple.
Shropshire Prune damsons in early August 2014.
Photo of indigo coloured Shropshire Prune damsons
The Shropshire Prune ripens through the middle of September into the middle of October: it is a genuine autumn fruit.




Damson Trees are Brittle: Here’s a Video Demonstration

Damson trees are brittle; it's an unfortunate distinguishing characteristic of this fruit tree.

You could have a bough that’s loaded with damsons and then, in an instant, and for no obvious reason, the bough shears away from the ‘mother trunk’.

A load of your crop is lost and your tree is denuded.

The wound caused may open the tree to disease.

This short video shows the aftermath of such damson tree brittleness. It captures a large bough that had a good crop of damsons on it that now lies on the ground after splitting from the tree.

Lots of fruit lost, for sure.

Tempremental trees? Probably.

What can you do to preempt their brittle nature? One suggestion is to prune judiciously so boughs don’t get so heavy with fruit that they break.



The Curious Case of the Two-Toned Damson

In August 2013, a good month before my damsons usually ripen, I spotted this extraordinary two-toned damson growing on an old tree:

A two-toned Shropshire Prune damson growing in my orchard, August 2013
A two-toned Shropshire Prune damson growing in my orchard, August 2013.

Over several days I noticed many more damsons on different trees in that same ‘two-toned’ way.

I’ve never seen this anything like this before.

If you are a plant scientist and know what this colouring is all about I’d be grateful if you’d leave a comment and throw some light on this phenomenon.