Delicious damsons endure from grandmother’s trees

by Betty Wrenn Day - Posted on Sep 05, 2012 - 02:16 PM

Photo: It's larger than a purple grape and smaller than a purple plum; it's a damson. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day

It's larger than a purple grape and smaller than a purple plum; it's a damson. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day

The damson, an almost forgotten old-time fruit, is a subspecies of the plum tree. It is identified by its oval shape (slightly pointed at one end), juicy golden-yellow flesh and beautiful smooth skin that is dark blue to indigo in color. If you like a fruit with "pucker factor" it can be eaten from the tree. However, the damson plum is recognized for its use in jellies and jams for the most part (every one of our grandmothers had several jars of them on their pantry shelves).

Damsons can also make a good wine and several types of puddings and desserts,

The name damson derives from the Latin prunum damascenum, "plum of Damascus." It was first cultivated in the area around the ancient city of Damascus, capital of modern-day Syria, thus its name.

Little is written about the plum in the early classics. Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) expressed surprise that the damson had been overlooked by Cato, also the Elder, 250 years earlier when he wrote of the growing, cultivating, selection and storing of plums.

It’s believed the Crusaders brought damson stones, as pits are also called, to try in England. The Romans certainly took them to Britain. Remnants of damsons are often found in archaeological digs of ancient Roman camps across England. Ancient writings do describe using damson skins in the manufacture of purple dye. Westminster Abbey required its gardener in 1270 to produce plums; by 1629 there were 61 varieties recorded. Damsons remain a popular fruit in England today, especially the Westmorland Damson.