Sunday August 23rd 2009, 9:31 pm

wild damsons

Greengages have always been a mystery to me, my only experience of them being when I was at primary school and for a fleeting moment you could get Penny Arrows in greengage flavour. For anyone unfamiliar with this retro confection, it was a strap of flavoured toffee available from the ‘penny tray’ in the sweet shop on the way home. Plain toffee was the regular flavour but they introduced others from time to time for short runs. I could just about cope with butterscotch, or even banana flavoured Penny Arrows but greengage was a step too far, quite weird and highly scented. That was my first taste of what I thought was the flavour of greengage and it very nearly scarred me for life.
The other day, Irene, my neighbour, asked me if I could take some greengages off her hands, as she wasn’t able to use all the ones she had been given. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity and promptly received a small bag full of washed and sorted fruit. With the Aylburton village horticultural show now only a week away I’ve been busy all week trying to cook up what will hopefully be a prize winner for the show.
These greengages, apparently a wild cultivar, were very small and round, each fruit no bigger than 3cm in diameter and there was 650g of fruit. I decided to add just vanilla and sugar. I sniffed the fruits to see if they bore any resemblance to the Penny Arrows of my youth and thankfully they didn’t. This wasn’t a lot of fruit to play with and I could have done with using a smaller pan than my preserving pan, as the bubbling syrup almost burnt during the rolling boil stage, so the recipe that follows has been doubled up to a more manageable quantity.
Cooked greengages are rather odd, the flesh an unattractive shade of slimy yellowish green and the skins go brown as they cook. Wanting the jam to have a good appearance for the village show, I made the decision to put the cooked fruit through my trusty and much loved food mill to give a better looking result. Jam made this way does still have some texture but the overall appearance is even and foamy. It makes a jam that is very easy to eat but you can leave the stones and skins in if you prefer for a more textured whole fruit in syrup finish.
I have to say, the finished product is absolutely wow, still slightly tart, zingy, sherberty and packed with flavour. I don’t know whether larger cultivated fruits would make a jam quite this fabulous, I’m on the look out for some to compare. If you can find the fruit, do give this recipe a go.

Wild Greengage & Vanilla Jam Makes approx 1.3Kg (3 lbs)
1.3Kg greengages
2 vanilla pods
approximately 800g sugar

Choose ripe to slightly underripe fruit, washed and sorted and place in a pan with the vanilla pods and 3 tablespoons of water. Cook gently to start the juices flowing, adding more water if necessary to stop the fruit catching on the bottom of the pan. Simmer gently until the fruit is cooked through and juicy, approximately 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover the pan and set aside in a cool place for between 12-24 hours.
The fruits will have split during cooking. With clean, washed hands fish around amongst the fruit and remove all the stones and the vanilla pods. Force the fruit through a food mill or a sieve so the skins are left in the food mill and you end up with a bowl of funny looking puree! Weigh it. You should have approximately 870g. You can match this amount with sugar but I prefer to use less, so I used 85-90% sugar to fruit = 780g sugar. Put the sugar in a bowl in the oven to warm along with the clean dry jars.
Split the vanilla pods and scrape out the seeds. Place them and the pods back in the puree and warm through before adding the sugar. Keep stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved, then turn up the heat and boil until the jam reaches setting point, keeping an eye on it to be sure it doesn’t burn. (Test a splodge of jam on a cold plate or use a jam thermometer for this. Refer to my book if you haven’t done this before.) It only took about 5 minutes to boil the syrup to a softish set, so do watch that you don’t cook too fiercely or the jam will burn. If you cook it on further you will be able to achieve a thicker set more like a fruit butter or cheese. Take care removing the pods then pour into jars and seal. Label when cold.

Fantastic jam – bit of a faff to make, but worth it.

Comment by Anne 08.28.11 @ 11:13 am