For the hedgerow forager finding a damson tree dripping with ripe fruit is like winning the lottery. A close cousin of the more domesticated plum, the inky blue fruits of the damson often grow so profusely that the tree’s branches hang low with the weight. Much smaller in size than the average plum, damsons are fiddly to stone but they reward with a deep intense flavour when cooked: the reason they are so loved by jam makers. There are a few remaining commercial orchards in the UK, but today damson trees are mainly found in people’s back gardens or wild in hedgerows and woodlands.
So imagine our delight when we were contacted out of the blue and offered the opportunity to pick damsons from an orchard on the border of Herefordshire and Shropshire.
The owner, who had read an article about Orchard Origins in a nature magazine, had inherited the house and orchard from a relative, but lived too far away to pick the fruit herself. From memory she thought there were at least half a dozen damson trees. When we arrived a quick survey revealed over a dozen. Whoever had planted this orchard had clearly loved their damsons. In fact, there was evidence everywhere that this orchard had been a very special place for the family that had lived here. A makeshift swing and a hideaway room with the bed still made up all hinted at the laughter and adventure that had once filled this place.
Although the damson trees were covered in fruit they were still a week or two away from being ripe enough for picking. We found a couple that were in a sunnier position and we were able to collect enough to fill a crate.
Our small haul of damsons was deep frozen that day and will be turned into a delicious rich red jam at a later date.