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It’s time for Damson Gin!

The ingredients and accessories for making Damson Gin

Just like a real cookery programme...

With all the running around harvesting fruit and veg, left, right and centre, you wouldn’t think there’d be time to get maudlin over the potential end of summer, but as a nip sneaks into the air, the mornings become draped in a scant mist and the sun starts to track a bit lower in the sky, thoughts of autumn and the coming winter start to surface in my mind.

However, there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to put a smile on my face and make me realise that the winter blues can be banished momentarily, and that’s damsons.

Damsons are fab! You can eat them, jam them, but best of all gin them. I’ve already made two 1 litre batches of Damson Gin this year and as people keep asking me how you make it, I thought I’d write it up and post it here for everyone to have a go.

Making Damson (and later on in the year, Sloe) Gin is incredibly easy. You need the following items:

  • 500g damsons
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 1 litre bottle of gin
  • 1.5 litre clip-top preserve jar (I use Le Parfait, or equivalent)
A double-damson. The Siamese Twin of fruit

Double trouble!

Damsons come in all shapes and sizes, from the small wild hedgerow type to large dessert varieties, but all are just as good to make gin. If you live rurally, you can probably find a few bushes to harvest some fruit (try to leave some for the wildlife though!) or you can buy both hedgerow and dessert varieties at your local grocers, farm shop, or independent store. Unfortunately, supermarkets don’t tend to stock such wonderful fruit.

Gin comes in all shapes and sizes too. A lot of recipes advise to use the cheapest you can buy, but these people obviously don’t drink gin! I advise you to buy your favourite brand or at least a label you know. I personally use Plymouth Gin. It’s got a nice rich Juniper flavour and reminds me of where I went to Uni. I also quite like Bombay Sapphire. Whatever you go for, just avoid the cheap and nasty own-brands, they’re not good gins to start with and they’re not going to improve with a few damsons and sugar. In fact, they’re likely to spoil the wonder of this luxurious drink.

A colander with washed and pricked Damsons

Yummy, scrummy damsons!

Anyway, we digress. Firstly you want to sterilise the jar. Actually, I’m not convinced that you need to sterilise a jar when making Damson/Sloe Gin, as technically we’re not actually making alcohol, we’re just infusing pre-manufactured gin with lovely damson juice and the alcohol already present in the gin should be a deterrent to most nasties. However, if you want to make sure, then my method of sterilising involves disassembling the lid from the jar, washing everything in hot soapy water, rinsing and then drying everything in an oven at about 100°C. It takes about 10 minutes.

As I decided to makes two batches this year, I have experimented with sterilising vs not sterilising (I washed and rinsed the jar, but then just dried it with a clean cloth). I’ll be interested to see if it makes any difference to the outcome. Personally, I don’t think it will, but we shall see…

Damsons and sugar in a jar

Waiting for the gin...

While the jar is drying, wash the damsons, pat them dry with a clean cloth and then prick them several times with the tip of a sharp knife. You can use a pin if you want, but I find I end up giving myself a lot of holes along with the plums, and half a dozen slits from a knife is a lot more efficient than a million holes from a pin in my book. The pricking takes about the same amount of time as the jar takes to dry, so now remove the jar and put it somewhere to cool a little (you don’t want to scald the fruit) and measure out the 250g of caster sugar.

Damsons in a jar with sugar and gin

Voila! Ginned Damsons

If you’re using a jar with a sealing lid, you probably took it apart to wash it and dry it. Now it’s cool enough to handle, reassemble the jar with its lid before moving on to the most fun part: tip in the damsons, add the sugar and pour on the gin. All the gin should just about fill the jar to the top, so carefully secure the lid. Finally, shake that baby up! Get all the damsons and sugar whirling in the gin like a huge snow-globe and then put the jar in a dark place and leave it alone with its thoughts.

A new jar of Damson Gin, next to a jar that's two weeks old

Here's one I made earlier...

Some say to shake the jar every day until the sugar is all dissolved (about 3/4 days), but I always forget to do this and usually end up shaking it about a week later and again a few days after that. It doesn’t really matter, as all the sugar naturally dissolves anyway, but you will need to shake it up a couple of times at least, to prevent getting a sugary mass at the bottom of the jar and to get all those lovely damson juices turning the gin a nice deep red.

How long you leave the damsons in the gin is up to you. Some people like to make the Damson Gin for the coming Christmas, so that would mean leaving them for about three months and then decanting the gin around December time. However, I’m a traditionalist and I like to make my gin this year in time for NEXT Christmas (yes, that does mean 2012).

Jars of Damson Gin stored in a cupboard

Save it for a winter's day...

Leaving the damsons and gin for that extra time matures it and makes it much more smooth. In fact, the longer you leave the decanted gin, the better it gets. Therefore, I leave my damsons in the jar for around six months. Any more than that really won’t make any more difference to the gin and you do risk the damsons going to fluff, which means you’ll have to filter the gin. Once decanted, I just leave the gin bottled in a dark cupboard until Christmas-time when I buy some fancy bottles to make gifts for friends and relatives.

But what about the damsons? Whatever you do, don’t throw them away! You can eat them with cream/ice cream, add them to the top of a cake, or better still, make jam/jelly out of them. If you don’t have time or the inclination to do any of these straight away, then freeze them. They last for a surprisingly long time frozen, and in a recent fit of emptying the freezer, I came across a couple of boxes from last year and the year before. I’m going to be making them into Ginned Damson Jelly this weekend and that will be the subject of next week’s blog post.

But in the meantime, leave me a comment about your Damson Gin-making exploits…

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