The Shropshire Prune Damson

What makes it the county's 'finest fruit'?

The Shropshire Prune Damson

Catherine Moran is part of a group of damson (especially Shropshire Prune damson) enthusiasts, based in and around Ludlow, Shropshire. Here she shares her thoughts on what makes the Shropshire Prune Damson the county’s ‘finest fruit’…

Shropshire’s finest fruit

Shropshire is the perfect place for growing damsons. So perfect, in fact, that the county has lent its name to a particular variety of damson, the Shropshire Prune (for ‘prune’, think of the Latin word ‘prunus’, the plant family to which damsons belong).

Damsons are a type of plum, and we can thank the Romans for introducing them to the UK over two thousand years ago. The Shropshire Prune damson was first mentioned in print in Shrewsbury in the late 1500s, which makes it one of the oldest named damson varieties, and certainly a true ‘heritage fruit’.

So what are the reasons for its longevity? Its rich history provides some clues. Anyone who has ever stoned a damson with their bare hands will attest to it excellent dyeing ability. From the Victorian era up to the mid-twentieth century Shropshire Prunes were used to make dye for the textile industry. Applications included carpets, gloves and military uniforms. These damsons were also sent by the cartload — literally — to make jam.

Such industrial uses meant that damsons became an important cash crop, which tenant farmers relied on to pay their yearly rent. It also explains why it’s said there was a damson tree in every cottage garden in Shropshire.

Endless culinary possibilities

But the Shropshire Prune was, and is, useful in the domestic kitchen too, where its hallmark as an ingredient is ‘versatility’, being equally happy in a wide range of both sweet and savoury dishes. For example, aside from jam, it makes superlative jelly, puddings and pies, as well as chutney, salsa, ketchup and vinegar. Then there’s that delicious oddity, damson cheese, a thick, sliceable fruit paste that brings cheeses and cold meats to life.

Just as important are the Shropshire Prune’s liquid possibilities, which include wine, liqueur, eau de vie and tenant farmer’s ruin, damson gin.

Next time you find yourself in Shropshire during the middle to the end of September look out for the blue-black Shropshire Prune damson and its various culinary manifestations, and treat yourself to a taste of history.

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