Friday, September 12, 2008

The Damson: Damn, Son!

To continue on the theme of not fixing fruit when it ain't broke, contrary to the advice of the man who sold me these damsons, I did not turn them into jam. I ate them. I'd say "plain," but they weren't. The damson is a marvelously flavorful fruit despite its diminutive stature. So much so that it makes me exclaim the homophonic phrase featured in the title of this post.

The damson plum has a certain pucker that I so love in other fruits, especially wild ones, like the natal plum, a fruiting African shrub popular in South Florida landscaping. Of course I never would have fully appreciated the damson's flavor if I had followed the advice of the vendor at the Charlottesville Far-Mar and cooked them down with sugar.

Granted, there are fruits specifically bred for using in cooking, like quince, but those are often highly specialized and therefore mostly absent in our increasingly user-friendly produce section. These days it seems anything not cartoonishly sweet is being relegated to the realm of "oh, some people make jam out of that." As I've said before, in doing so, we surrender a wealth of complex flavors to one: sugary.

After my last post on the subject, Karen B. wrote in with an historic literary connection to the damson:

I remembered at least one instance of where I'd seen damsons, Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market:

Come buy, come buy;
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try...

Here is evidence that people before us have eaten the same things as we (sometimes) do now, a link to our food culture that you'll never find in something like a supermarket tomato or chalky, aspartamey red delicious. Sure, some of you out there might already be familiar with the damson and find my ranting unwarranted. That makes sense, since it's been popular for hundreds of years, besides the last 50 or so. But it didn't cross my path until the tender age of 27, so something is clearly wrong with our relationship to heirlooms. How quickly we abandoned the damson and green gage for those awful plums you can now get in any grocery store in the world.

Perhaps one reason the vendor told me they weren't good for eating is that they took a full two weeks to ripen. At first they really were too tart to eat without wincing, which was still kind of fun, but as they aged to the brink of shriveling, the sugars concentrated and the flesh softened. I'm so glad I didn't dump a bunch of Domino on them early on, never having learned how good they can be with my two revolutionary new ingredients: knowledge, patience.

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Karen B said...

And to think that I thought most of the fruits in Rossetti's poem were nonsense fruits when I first read it! Good pun!

Maggie said...

I live for damsons in season! I've never had the opportunity to have the African ones but I've been looking at native plum saplings to plant. I'm in Michigan and I frozen over 8 lbs of them for the winter. Eating locally can get bleak in February here. I prefer them less ripe because I think the taste is brighter and I crave tart things. I first started eating them in a family recipe for plum dumplings. Hungarian Plum Dumplings

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EMELINA said...

I have never tried them but your words are so true...sometimes people get so acostumed by the foods and situations in life that they are presented to them that they forget to look for something else different and maybe even better than the choices from like you dont know that you like something else until you look for it and try it! your writting and your site...many thanks! have a great week!!

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