damson day, don't miss that stunning white blossom...
The Cumbrian climate and geography can be hard on crops, but the damsons grown in the Lyth and Winster Valleys seem to thrive here. Damsons are part of the plum family, but smaller and with a distinctive tart flavour. Lyth Valley damsons are one of the two Cumbrian products documented in the Slow Food organisation's Ark Of Taste, the other being Cumbrian Herdwick Mutton. The damson trees and hedgerows flower white in April every year, which makes the valleys absolutely stunning, and not to be missed if you are in the area. Victoria and Oliver Barratt live in the beautiful Lyth Valley. They have a small damson orchard, make Damson Gin and are heavily involved in organising Damson Day, which this year will be on Saturday 19th of April. The festival celebrates everything damson and it is of course organised to coincide with the damson blossom.
A lot of producers make special artisan products using the very uniquely flavoured Lyth Valley damsons. The Hazelmere Café and Bakery in Grange-over-Sands make a special damson conserve made with the fruit. Cowmire Hall, alongside their gin, now also offer a Damson Gin Christmas pudding. The Westmorland Damson Association makes Damson wine, jam and also bottles the damsons. Other producers make damson beer, syrup, jelly, jam, chutney, crumble, ice-cream, gumbo, bread and more recently a damson fruit cheese. This last creation, by Lizzie Smith, was recently awarded a top prize in the annual North West Fine Food awards, where Cumbrian producers secured over a quarter of all the awards. Most of the damson products will be available at the festival. Damson day will also include country craft demonstrations, plenty of children's activities, music and great entertainment. It's a wonderful day out for the whole family. Further information can be found on the website at www.lythdamsons.org.uk and on the www.Artisan-food.com website.
The Westmorland Damson Association has been campaigning for many years to promote the use of local damsons, thereby ensuring the continued survival of existing orchards. For more information, telephone 015395 68698 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. A book on damson recipes called A Taste of Damsons by Victoria Barratt is also available from the Westmorland Damson Association, local bookshops and Kendal Tourist Information Centre. It can also be ordered via Cowmire Hall's website . This is a recipe for Damson Gin from Tom Holman's book A Lake District Miscellany.
250 g damsons
125 g white sugar
300 ml or so of good gin
Destalk and wash the damsons. Prick each one a couple of times with the point of a sharp knife or a needle. Half fill sterilized bottles or jars with the damsons, and add the sugar. Fill to the top with gin. Cork the bottles tightly and leave them on their sides for three months, turning every few days so that the sugar dissolves in the liquor. When you're ready to decant the gin, taste to see if it needs any more sugar, then strain it through muslin or filter paper into bottles. The gin continues to improve with age. Damson gin is great before or after dinner, mixed with tonic or lemonade, or as a pick-me-up from a hipflask on the fells.