Damson Plum Butter

Damson Plum is the queen of all the plums and Damson Butter is the king of all the fruit butters. Even though a palatable fruit butter (in other words a very thick jam) can be made practically with every fruit (or even fruit skins, as I realised only last week), damson butter is unique. Damson, Damson plum, or Damask Plum (Prunus domestica subsp. insititia) is oval with a very dark, violet skin, yellow flesh and has a very long history. Its name comes from “prunum damascenum” (plum from Damascus), since it was apparently first cultivated in antiquity in the region of Damascus. I don’t know about the rest of Europe, but it was introduced to England by Romans.

If you think you might have never spotted a damson on a tree or on a market, you must have seen its picture on a bottle of damson brandy called slivovitz, slivovitza, šljivovica, rakia… and produced in several central-European countries, such as Poland, Serbia, Hungary or Slovakia. For me the most aromatic and flavoursome comes from Serbia.

Just like damson brandy, damson butter is a part of long culinary traditions of certain countries. Even the smallest grocer or supermarket in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia or Germany carries damson butter (powidła, lekvàr, mus…), while a standard damson jam might be impossible to get there. If you want to know why, try making a “standard” jam with damsons, and then prepare the damson butter. I have made the the normal jam only once in my life and will never do this again.

Contrary to all the jams or fruit butters I know, properly made damson butter requires only plums and a bit of water. No sugar. This is not my invention of a low-sugar fruit preserve, but a genuine, traditional way of making damson butter. (By “no sugar” I mean no sweetener such as apple juice, often found in sugarless jams). The real damson butter is cooked on a very slow heat for many hours divided in two or three days. Thanks to this long and slow cooking process it keeps in a pantry for long years. I have recently opened a 5-year-old jar and it was perfectly sealed and preserved.

Damson butter has a concentrated fruit taste, with a slightly tart note. It is perfect as a filling for tarts, cookies, biscuits or as a layered cake spread. Thanks to its tanginess it’s also excellent in savoury dishes: with roast pork, chicken, turkey, smoked bacon, in sandwiches, on pancakes, crêpes, with terrines, pâtés, foie gras… In short, this is the only fruit jam I cannot imagine my life without.

Damson butter making process is not difficult. No peeling is involved and stones go out quite easily. It requires however a certain patience and a big batch of fruit; don’t bother if you have less than 3 kg, since the yield is quite low.  Thus, if you have 5 kg plums, you will obtain only 1,5 – 2 l fruit butter. Everything depends of course on the damsons’ quality, skin thickness and cultivation methods. On the other hand, when buying a big box of fruit, you often obtain a substantially reduced price.

I have been making damson butter for many years and can assure you all the effort, time and money spent are definitely worth it.

NOTE: even if you have very ripe plums, the final butter might prove very acid. You can add some sugar, but only at the end, when the thick consistency is obtained and usually it is no more than 10% of the initial fruit weight. Do not add the sugar earlier, since it might make the butter burn easier.

Preparation: about 10 hours (divided into 2-3 days)

Ingredients (yield: about 1,5 l):

4 kg damsons

water

(sugar)

Wash the plums, stone them and put in a big pan.

Add some water (about 10% of the fruits’ initial weight), so that they don’t stick to the bottom until they start releasing their juice.

Put the pan on a low heat and let it simmer, stirring occasionally. First you can stir every 30 minutes, but when the mixture thickens, you should lower the heat to the absolute minimum and stir it every ten minutes. The thicker the mixture,  the more often you should stir it.

If the pan burns, quickly transfer the unfinished butter to another pan (otherwise it will “take” the burnt flavour).

The butter is ready when you put a wooden spoon in the middle and it doesn’t move.

When you obtain this final consistency, taste the butter. If you think it’s too acid, add sugar, let it simmer, constantly stirring and continue adding sugar and stirring until the required sweetness is obtained and the sugar is dissolved.

Some damsons might seem very sweet at the beginning, but at the end the butter might come out too acid.

If you had ripe plums normally you shouldn’t add more than 10% of sugar compared to the initial fruit weight. (I have never added more than 10% of the final butter weight).

Don’t add sugar before the final, very thick consistency is obtained.

/At this point you can either freeze it (after the butter has cooled down) or keep it in the fridge for a couple of weeks, or process it in the jars, as described below, and store it in your pantry for several years!/

Pour the butter, still hot, into sterilised jars. Cover with lids. Leave the jars to cool.

Place the cool jars in a big pan, bottom lined with an old kitchen towel folded in two (this will prevent the jars from breaking), cover up with hot – but not boiling – water to the level just below the lid. Bring to boil and keep on a very low heat, in simmering water, for around 20 minutes.
Stick on self-adhesive labels, write the name of the butter and don’t forget to mark the date.

NOTE: For the readers who live in the USA, the USDA-approved canning method is different. You can find it described here:
http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/uga/using_bw_canners.html.

Damson Plum Butter on Punk Domestics

50 thoughts on “Damson Plum Butter

  1. Mr. Three-Cookies

    Very interesting. I made plum “butter jam” two days ago and had no ideas about this plum butter business and popularity in Eastern Europe. Wish I knew! I though they only ate meat and potatoes and drank vodka:) Kidding!I don’t know what plums I used – some looked like damsons, some didn’t even though it came from one tree! And I cooked it for 30-40 mins only and added just a small amount of sugar. You are right, the plums were sweet but the result was a bit tart. So if you cook the queen for 10 hours it becomes a king? Mine remained a queen.

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you, Mr. Three-Cookies! Actually, potatoes are not staple in all the countries I have mentioned (only Poland, Slovakia and Germany I think, Hungary is only partly a potato country from what I know and I have no idea about Serbia…). Otherwise, I have to warn you: I know some Poles, Hungarians or Slovaks who get furious whenever someone says they live in the Eastern Europe 😉 It might get a bit dangerous especially if they hear it after a couple of glasses. It’s a bit like telling a Mexican he comes from Southern America 😉
      Next time try cooking the damsons for longer (but only damsons, other plums don’t give such spectacular results).

      1. Mr. Three-Cookies

        Oops, I had no ideas that Poles, Hungarians or Slovaks didn’t consider themselves part of Eastern Europe. Or Mexico wasn’t South America. And I learn all this from a food blog:) Really glad you told me though, I will definitely keep in mind. I just checked what wikipedia had to say, interesting! If I visit Eastern Europe or Poland, Hungary or Slovakia I will try to find damson butter. And also not talk about Eastern Europe:)

        1. Sissi Post author

          Mr. Three-Cookies, I hope you didn’t mind my comment 😉 I still remember how I felt when I told a Mexican woman she came from South America and when someone else, who wasn’t Mexican at all, added it was not even Central America… I will never make this mistake again (even though her reaction was polite and moderated).
          I think this distinction between Western and Eastern Europe (counting a part of Germany in the latter) comes from the communist times. Nowadays Poles, Hungarians and others often talk about the common Central European mentality and culture and… let’s be frank: most of all they no longer want to be associated with Russia :-)

            1. Sissi Post author

              I am glad then :-) I certainly think “so many things to learn” whenever I read the interesting things you find for the last part of your posts.

    1. Sissi Post author

      I make this butter every year and must say I am not a big fan of most of the plums. The only ones I really adore are damsons and mirabelles.

  2. Charles

    Beautiful stuff Sissi – looks even better than the last butter you made! Have you considered getting a slow cooker? My wife just bought a mini one… just the right size for two servings of food, and she made some apple butter on the weekend – rich, thick, brown and sweet, and absolutely no stress. Just dunk in the pot, turn to “Low” and forget about it for 12 hours or so.

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you, Charles. It tastes better than the peach skin butter too… As I said it’s the best fruit butter I can imagine!
      I have thought about buying a slow cooker, actually I have a whole list of the appliances I would like, but I lack a bit space and there are so many other things for the kitchen I desperately need…

  3. Kelly

    I love the idea of a fruit butter that doesn’t contain additional sugar. Sure seems hard to find, so the idea of making it, thrills me (even adding 10% seems so reasonable). I am familiar with Damask plums and am particularly fond of their tough flesh (even ripe, they seem more resilient than other varieties to me). Yes, I’m picturing this plum butter with a savoury dish or maybe breakfast scones on Christmas morning… That’s quite the shelf life. Can’t imagine your life without it, eh? I better try this!

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you, Kelly! This is one of the most popular plums here, but it wasn’t easy to get cheap ones this year… I also prefer it in cakes from all the other plum varieties (maybe apart from mirabelle), since it doesn’t lose its taste or tanginess, but stays sweet. Many round plums become bland when baked. I think my three favourite ways to have it in savoury dishes are with chicken, pork and foie gras.

  4. Shilpa Sharma

    No added sugar! How amazing is that now? looks beautiful…damson is such a gorgeous fruit but we don’t see it very often sadly…I am making a list of preserves and chutney to make and the list is growing everyday…you are very clever….keep thinking about the book :-)

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you so much, Shilpa! I thought Britain was full of damsons! I have also read that there are many wild damsons in your country and wild damsons must be really extraordinary! I am very curious to know which preserves you will make soon. Let me know if you have any questions (not that I’m a specialist, but I have been doing it for years, so I hope I might help sometimes 😉 )

  5. Juliana

    Sissi, I never made any fruit butter…yours look delicious…and love the idea of not having any sugar in it.
    Hope you have a wonderful week ahead :-)

  6. ping

    I wish I could get my hands on those damsons. Not easy to come by and if I find some, it’s terribly expensive. I do love plum jams and trusting by what you said here, these are much nicer than the regular plums. I’d love to get some of these for my plum cobblers. It would be awesome! Oh btw, congratulations for winning the awesome knife from Charles. Every good cook deserves a good knife. I know I can’t live without the awesome ceramic knife a friend got me as a present. Enjoy!

    1. Sissi Post author

      These plums are exceptionally good in all the cakes, so they would be great in plum cobblers too. You might not have the cheap damsons, but you have cheap passion fruits if I remember 😉 Believe me, there are many people who envy you this!
      Thank you, I am thrilled to finally have a real, serious knife!

  7. Nami | Just One Cookbook

    Plum is one of my favorite fruits! I don’t know why it’s not as popular as it should be! I’d totally buy this plum butter – saving my time for preserving this…. argh…Sissi this is probably my favorite preserve of your collection! Well, maybe not. It’s hard to pick since everything looks too good to pick one.

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you, Nami! I am so surprised you like this preserve (it doesn’t look very appealing, does it?).
      I also love plums, but believe me, there are lots of people who don’t like any kind of plums. I think in the case of these, some don’t like the tanginess which for me is very important: otherwise the fruit is simply sweet and bland.
      I wish so much I could make you taste some…

  8. kankana

    I think i had that fruit .. not sure if it’s the same one though. I never had plum butter but it looks so nice that I am seriously curious to try some right now.

  9. chopinandmysaucepan

    I believe it’s so exciting to live in Europe because of all the different culture and arising from that, so many different varieties of cooking ingredients. It’s a little more “1 dimensional” here in Australia although we do get a fair bit of imported items too.

    This butter is so much healthier although I don’t think of health when I’m devouring fresh bread laden with French butter :)

    1. Sissi Post author

      I also believe it must be very exciting to live in Australia! A friend who lived in Sydney told me you have an incredible mixture of different ethnic cuisines. I also love French butter, it’s the best in the world!

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  11. Miriam

    I finish a lot of long-slow-simmered foods in the oven, as I don’t have a slow-cooker. Could plum butter be finished that way? I assume the lid would be off to permit evaporation as it cooks down, but I’m concerned that oven heat would toughen the top. Your thoughts?

    1. Sissi Post author

      Hi Myriam. I don’t have a slow cooker either and since it’s not popular in Europe, a big majority of people don’t prepare this butter with a slow cooker. You just cook it slowly 😉
      I have never tried with the oven, but as you say, the top would become dried and tough, so I wouldn’t advise it. The key is to simmer on a very low heat and stir frequently, but you cannot stir easily in the oven. This recipe requires a bit of patience, but you can simmer it for several days, for example one hour or two hours a day only. Good luck!

      1. Miriam

        Thanks, Sissi, I will follow your directions. I look forward to it! My German neighbour makes plum butter with her damsons and it is wonderful, and I am going to try it with my greengage plums, which are smaller and sweeter.

        1. Sissi Post author

          Good luck, Miriam! (oops, sorry!) I wonder how the greengage plum butter will taste like (I have never tried these). I hope you will be happy with the result.

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