Wild damsons have a mind of their own. According to those who know, the last good season for them in Ireland was the fall of 2014, that is until now. I was on my bike, heading over to Marl Bog lake to pick blackberries, when I came upon the wild trees on the side of the country road. Deep plum coloured fruits, the size of engorged grapes were hanging heavy on the branches. Instinctively I knew there were damsons, even though I hadn’t seen them in the wild before now. I plucked two with a few leaves & headed onwards to pick the first of the blackberries.
On returning home, I checked with my wild fruit taster, my father, who confirmed they were indeed the rare wild damson. The taste was akin to a greengage plum but deeper & with a pleasant sourness. Back on my bike the next evening, I headed off to collect a bounty of them, with damson jam & crumble being the plan.
Autumn crumble is really one of the finest puddings there are. It is simple, warming & delicious. I chose pear to accompany the damsons, their soft sweetness is a good countermeasure & once poached they hold their shape & add a little bite to the ripe softness of the damson fruit. Cooked first in a pan with a little butter & sugar, the damson juices flow and burst & a wild aroma fills your kitchen. The de-stoning is little finicky, but your fingertips will be a gorgeous colour which your childhood self would appreciate.
The deep warm purple stickiness, warming spices & buttery sugary crumble laden in a bowl filled with cream or custard is truly one of my favourite autumnal recipes. Serve with a big pot of tea, curled up somewhere comfy with good company or book & hopefully you will feel the same.
For the pears:
- 3 just ripe pears
- 200g caster sugar
- 5/6 cloves
For the damsons:
- 450g wild damson fruit
- 3 tablespoons of sugar
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 3 tablespoons of water
For the crumble topping:
- 175g plain flour
- 25g almond flour
- 25g porridge oats
- 110 butter (chilled from the fridge) & cut into cubes
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- A grating of fresh nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon of mixed spice
- 50g soft brown caster sugar
- 60g demerara sugar
Preheat your oven to 180℃ & lightly butter your crumble dish. I used a shallow rectangular ceramic dish measuring about 26cm x17 cm. First poach your pears.
- Wash, peel, & quarter your pears, removing the pips & any hard bits. Bring a 1L pot of water to the boil. Take off & stir in your sugar until dissolved. Pop in your cloves. Turn the heat down to a medium & add in your pears quarters.
- Cut out a circle of parchment paper & place on top of the pan, covering the pears. Poke a little hole in the center. This will prevent the fruit from browning.
- Leave to simmer for between 9-13 minutes depending on the ripeness. (A paring knife will go through a pear/apple piece with ease when done).
Take off the heat & keep covered with the parchment paper until ready to use. Next prepare your damsons.
- Place your damsons in a large shallow pan. Add in the sugar, butter & water & cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, giving a quick stir. You just want the juice to start to release into the pan, the skin will just be about to burst & a lovely smell will fill the air.
Take off the heat & leave to cool a little while you prepare the crumble topping.
- Add your flour, almond flour, porridge oats & spices (cinnamon, nutmeg & mixed spice) into a large bowl & give a quick stir with your hands.
- Rub the cubed butter into the flour with your fingertips until you have texture of coarse breadcrumbs with some little larger lumps of butter.
- Add in your caster & demerara sugar to the bowl & stir together with your hands.
Now go back to your damsons, they should be cool enough by now.
Using your fingers (or a small paring knife), carefully remove the stones, trying to waste as little as the flesh as you can.
Drain off your poached pears & place the pear quarters into the bottom of your crumble dish. Spoon the damsons on top, including the stick juice from the pan.
Add the crumble mixture on top & bake in the oven for about 35 minutes. The crumble will be a golden brown & some juices should be bursting through.
Serve warm with lashings of something creamy & enjoy. Best to eat most that night & if some is left over, tuck into it for breakfast.