Sneaky late frost puts paid to hopes of a great damson harvest

Someone once said “Promises that you make to yourself are often like the Japanese plum tree – they bear no fruit”.

This year you could look a little closer to home to apply that saying! The damson tree at the bottom of my parent’s garden in Aghadowey has about 12 damsons on it this year.

I had high hopes of making jam and all manner of confections, but a sneaky late frost, put paid to my good intentions.

I managed to get a couple of punnets from a local green grocer, and it was the first time in my life that I actually had to spend money on them.

To make a good damson rum, to enjoy at Christmas, combine 500g frozen damsons (if you don’t freeze them then prick each one several times with a cocktail stick) with 500g sugar and 750ml white rum. Place in a clean kilner jar and shake every day for a fortnight. Leave for a further six weeks and then strain into jars. The rum soaked fruit can be stewed with sugar, strained and served over chocolate ice-cream.

Plums are a versatile ingredient that lend themselves to zingy chutneys and savoury sauces equally as in sticky desserts or sweet jams.

Duck and plums are a classic combination. The first time I had this was in a Chinese restaurant in Ballymena in the 1980s and for me it was the height of sophistication.

I still love the way you get this with the sticky sauce, thin pancakes and crispy scallion and cucumber.

When I went to college in America one of the tutors showed me how to do proper crispy duck, using a bicycle pump (to separate the skin from the flesh ensuring it didn’t “steam”) skewers, and hot oil.

This recipe is very time consuming so you’ll be glad I’m including a less high maintenance one. If you pierce the skin of the duck, pour over lots of boiling water and chill before cooking, you’ll achieve similar results with a lot less hassle.

The duck comes with a damson sauce, gently spiced with star anise, ginger and clove and served with a crispy cabbage and apple salad.

My other recipe is for an upside down plum cake with a chocolate sponge. The fusion of zippy plums and sultry chocolate works to great effect and only needs a scoop of ice-cream or fresh cream to finish.

The greengrocers and farmers markets have local plums available at the moment if you’re like me and haven’t been so lucky with your own crop this year. Here’s hoping for a better harvest next time!