Cumbria Tradition Westmorland Damson

Damsons CloseupDamsons have grown since the early 1700s in the Lyth and Winster valleys south-west of Kendal. The fruit is thought to have originated in Damascus and made its way to England via the crusaders.

Damsons also grow in other parts of Britain. Damson trees are often found around sites of Roman camps in Britain. In Shropshire the fruits are larger than in Westmoreland and not as sharp tasting. The stones were excavated at the Viking Jorvik centre at York and were also found in a bag attached to the waist of a 4000 year-old 'Ice Man' uncovered in the Alps.Damson Blossoms

Lyth Valley damsons were once used for purple dye for cotton produced in the mills of Manchester. Cartloads were loaded onto trains heading to the jam factories in Lancashire.

The shallow rooted trees can be found in the corners of fields, along stonewalls and hedgerows and wherever soil contains the needed nutrients. They like damp climates, are very tolerant of altitude, soil type, acidity and alkalinity. They do not like shade.

In April the trees are covered with white blossoms. The fruit (generally 27 to 30 mm long and 20 to 23 mm in diameter) ripens in September and is for sale in roadside stall and in local shops. The trees produce for about 50 years. Young trees can be grown from suckers. The fruit is generally ripe when of a yellow colour.

Damson Tree in FlowerThe small plum’s nutty flavour is prized for its use in making desserts, cheese, jam, ice cream, wine, punch, gin, beer, and other delicacies. They can also be eaten fresh. Damson beer and gin is available at the Masons Arms, Strawberry Bank, Cartmel Fell. Damson gin is also available from local shops. The damsons are sold fresh for about three weeks from mid September.

The Westmorland Damson Association markets damsons. They were formed in 1996 to restore the Westmorland damson orchards to their former glory and to promote the cultivation and use of Westmorland's damsons. In 2000 the Association leased a 2 acre damson orchard. Each April thousands of visitors celebrate Damson Day, started in the 1990s.

Each year there is a Damson festival where growing advice is given, there are young damson trees for sale, Damson food products are sold and include jam, bottled damsons, damson gin, wine, ice-cream, chutney, bread, pastries, chocolates, ostrich and damson pate. In addition demonstrations of traditional crafts include damson wood turning, basket-making, and more. The Furness Morris Men also put on dances. There are events for all ages.
Note: Damson Day 2018 is on April 14 at Low Farm, Lyth, Kendal, LA8 8DJ

Damson JamFurther Information:
Orchards to visit:
1. Acorn Bank Garden & Watermill, Temple Sowerby, nr Penrith) is a National Trust property which contains a mature orchard with apples, pears, quince, plums, damsons, mulberries, morello cherries and medlars.
2. Sizergh Castle Garden (National Trust), Sizergh, nr Kendal LA8 8EA +44(0)15395 60070, an orchard of established fruit trees.

Dishes of note:
1. Damson & Apple Tansy: damsons and apples cooked in an egg custard
2. Cumberland Rum Nicky: double crust mincemeat, apple and rum tart
3. Westmorland Plum Chutney: pickled damsons are made by cooking with vinegar, sugar and spices. The kernels from the stones are sometimes added to give an almond-like flavour.

The Westmorland Damson Association
High Tarn Green
Cartmel Fell
Grange-over-Sands, LA11 6NE

Damsons on TreeTo purchase Damson gin: Cowmire Hall Book: Taste of Damsons by Victoria Barratt for the Westmorland Damson Association, published 1997, for damson recipes. Available from various sources online—Google it and from Cowmire Farm.

Recipe for Damson and Apple Tansy:
Tansies originally always included tansy, a bitter-sweet herb which still lends its name to many custard and omelet-type puddings. This combination traditionally used Witherslack damsons which grow south of Lake Windermere.
INGREDIENTS: Cox's Orange Pippin apples - 2 large, peeled, cored and thinly sliced, Damsons - 225 g (8 oz), halved, stoned and quartered, Butter - 15 g (* oz), Sugar - 40 g (1* oz), Ground cloves - pinch, Ground cinnamon - pinch, Eggs - 4, separated, Soured cream or yogurt - 3 tbsp.
COOKING: 1. Put the apples, damsons, butter and half the sugar in a large frying pan. 2. Cook over a gentle heat, until the fruit is softened, stirring continuously. Stir in the spices, then remove from the heat. 3. Beat the egg yolks with the cream and stir into the fruit. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then carefully fold in. 4. Cook over a low heat until the mixture has set. Sprinkle the top with the remaining sugar, then brown under a hot grill. Serve immediately, straight from the pan, with soured cream or yogurt.

Lyth Valley Farm Shop sells damsons from mid-September for about 3 weeks.Damson Ice Cream

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