Damson cheese is a very old recipe. It isn’t a cheese in the dairy sense but a thick fruity paste; a throwback to when the term ‘cheese’ was used more loosely. It is mysteriously inky and black and should keep for years.
- 2 kg (4 lb 8 oz) damson plums
- about 1 kg (2 lb 4 oz) sugar
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Wash and sterilise five or six 300 ml (10½ fl oz) straight-sided jars, see below.
Preserving time 6 months
Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F).
Place the damsons in a cast-iron casserole dish with a well-fitting lid. Bake for about an hour until the juice runs freely and the stones become loose. Push the fruit and juice through a sieve. Collect some of the stones, crack them to remove the kernels and add these to the pulp. This seems like a lot of faffing, but they add a strong almond flavour, although it will still be delicious if you skip this step.
Weigh the pulp and put it in a jam pan. Add 75 g (2¾ oz) of sugar for every 100 g (3½ oz) of fruit pulp. Bring to the boil over medium to high heat, stirring often and turning the heat down if it’s really raging, for about 40–50 minutes until it’s set when tested.
Put the cheese in straight-sided jars: this is so it can be turned out onto a plate when ready to serve. It’s best to keep for 6 months before use. When it starts to shrink away from the side of the jar it is ready.
This is the big one. In the age of refrigeration we’ve often forgotten how much mould and yeast thrive when left unchecked. You can preserve things through excluding oxygen (tight-fitting lids), introducing an acid (pickled foods), and by adding enough sugar or salt. But even then it’s important to start with really clean implements, and to store things in sterilised jars with sterile lids. So wash your storing jars or containers really well before sterilising.
The heat method
(a dishwasher is a good place to start)
Heat kills bugs, and bugs can cause your preserves to lose quality, or even go off. If you want to sterilise just one bottle, or a few jars, you can place them in a saucepan of cold water, on their sides, making sure they’re full of water and submerged. Put their lids in there too. Bring this pot to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. This will kill just about all the bugs you’re worried about. The only downside of this method is that it is a little tricky to take hot bottles from a pot of boiling water, though there are special tongs on the market to help you. A good thing to note is that hot sauces and jams will crack a cold jar, and this method allows you to have your jars pre-warmed ready to pour in a hot conserve.
Dishwashers, with a hot rinse cycle, also sterilise the jars, so that could be an easier method.
Be sure, when dealing with hot jars, not to put them onto a cold surface or they will crack. Always put them onto a wooden board. Cold jars will also crack if they have very hot things put in them, so warm the jars a little first, using warm water or similar.
Recipe and image from Not Just Jam by Matthew Evans (Murdoch Books, $35, hbk)
View our Readable feasts extract and more recipes from the book here.