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