Damson and apple jam

damsons and apples

If you’re going to have a go at jam-making, first can I recommend you get this song in your head. Where it will stay all day. No need to thank me.

On our way back from a walk, we passed a wild damson* tree laden down with fruit, so we stopped and picked some. The cooking apples are from a tree that hangs over into our garden.

I followed this recipe from Gransnet.


1kg damsons
500g apples
1/4 litre water
granulated sugar (weight to be determined later)

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Wash and destalk the damsons, chop the apples (no need to peel), and boil both gently until soft. Push through a colander to remove the seeds and skins. (I say ‘push through’ like it’s a serene thing, but it’s more like a jammy wrestling match.) Weigh the puree, and add the same weight of sugar. Mix it well, then boil for 15 minutes.


Two important jam-makin’ things to know before you start:
1) You need a cold plate, so put one in the freezer in preparation. To test if the jam is ready, you drip a bit onto the cold plate, leave it for a couple of seconds, then push it with your finger. If it wrinkles, it’s reached setting point. If it behaves like a liquid, it needs a bit longer.
2) You need warm, sterilised jars at the ready. Wash them in hot water, then put them in the oven at 140C for half an hour before the jam is ready.

Cost: 33p a jar
The only cost was 1.5kg sugar, at £1.30ish from Asda. For that, we filled four big 750g jars (courtesy of a lodger with a love for Dolmio pasta sauces).

*I’m saying ‘damson’ for simplicity. Here’s the Geoff version: “I think what we found might actually have been bullaces, but the whole group – blackthorn (sloes), bullaces, damsons, plums and cherry plums and wild cherries (cherries are just small plums) are all inter-fertile and it is not even clear what the true wild ancestors were, apart from that blackthorn was one of them.  So there are trees growing all over the UK, some of which were planted, others self-seeded which are basically sloe-bullace-damson-cherry-plums – they are a bit like mongrel dogs.  It’s where our concept of what is a “species” starts to break down.  They are all edible, and the taste ranges from sweet to sour to tasteless!”

Wild mushroom and leek tart

prep2This was a success, and I’d definitely make it again. I used a mixture of hedgehog mushrooms (pied de mouton), winter chanterelles and some rare wavy capped chanterelles.

The hedgehog mushrooms get their name from the thousands of tiny spines on their undersides. The spines are edible but slightly bitter, and they detach themselves during cooking and make your food look weird and speckly. So this time I scraped them off using a teaspoon.

The recipe takes a couple of hours if you make the pastry from scratch. But if you used a ready-made base, you could have it on the table in half an hour.



For the pastry:
240g plain flour
50g grana padano or other hard cheese
160g butter – chilled and cubed
2 egg yolks
fresh thyme

For the filling:
350g leeks
400g mushrooms (I used 250g hedgehogs, 100g winter chanterelles, 50g wavy-capped chanterelles)
2 cloves garlic
4 eggs
100ml double cream
50g grana padano or other cheese
olive oil



For the pastry:
Mix the flour, thyme and cheese together, then rub in the butter until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and bring together. Chill for 30 minutes then roll out and place in 30cm tin. Chill for another 20 minutes. Bake blind for 20 minutes at 180C then bake open for a further 20 minutes.

For the filling:
Fry the leeks in olive oil, then set aside. Fry the mushrooms in olive oil (I put the hedgehogs in first because they have a sturdier texture, then added the others) then add the butter and garlic. Combine the leeks, mushrooms, cream, cheese, parsley and eggs. Mix well and add seasoning. Pour into the pastry base and bake for 20 minutes at 180C.

Penny bun soup

Today we found four lovely penny buns (or porcini, or ceps), and decided to be decadent and try out a pure fresh penny bun soup. The results were delicious, but a bit too rich and thick.

In future, I’d probably go for a maximum of half penny buns and half some other, milder mushroom. And more water/stock/wine than I used below. I might also replace the double cream with single cream or milk.

penny bun soup


500g chopped penny buns 
5 shallots
1 clove garlic
500ml chicken stock 
50ml white wine
100ml double cream
butter for frying
salt, pepper, dried thyme


Chop the garlic and shallots and fry in butter for four minutes. Chop the penny buns and add them to the pot, frying for a further six or seven minutes. Add the stock, wine, salt, pepper and thyme, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add cream, blend, reheat to hot and then serve.

Fig and fairy ring cookies

P1070272Err, mushroom cookies? Yes, that’s what I said too. But Geoff assured me this wasn’t as crazy as it sounded. I’m still not quite convinced he was right.

Fairy ring mushrooms are one of the few fungi that grow in the summer in the UK, starting in June and going right through to November. The reason they can survive the hot weather is that they have a high concentration of the sugar trehalose. Even if they dry out completely, the sugar protects their cell structure and as soon as the next rain comes along they spring back to health.

I made a basic cookie mix and added the mushrooms, then got rather disheartened at how unpleasant the mixture looked. So I decided to add some fresh fig to half of the mixture, for a bit of seasonal colour.

They came out OK, but I don’t think I’d have been able to guess what the brown bits were if I hadn’t known they were mushrooms. The cookies were sweet, but not particularly tasty. The ones I’d added fig to were more interesting – and looked better too.

I think in future I will experiment with drying the fairy ring mushrooms first, to get a more concentrated taste and interesting texture. I might also reduce the proportion of sugar. This one definitely needs some work!

(makes about eight)
50g butter
30g caster sugar
70g plain flour
20g ground almonds
50g fresh fairy ring mushrooms 
1 fresh fig

Heat the oven to 180C. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the flour and almonds and mix. Chop the mushrooms and fig and add them to the mixture. Line a baking tray with baking paper, then roll the mixture into balls and flatten them into cookies. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

Hedgehog soup


Not real hedgehogs, I promise. This soup was made from hedgehog mushrooms and field mushrooms – and very nice it was too. I would definitely make this again.

The bread in the picture is from a sourdough loaf I made after attending a class with Nick Beddows of Slow Food Brighton.


200g field mushrooms
300g hedgehog mushrooms
1 clove garlic
1 leek
400ml vegetable stock
100ml milk
salt, pepper, mixed herbs

Fry garlic and leek for five minutes until soft, then add chopped mushrooms and cook for another 5-7 minutes. Add the stock, milk and herbs and simmer for 20 minutes. Blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.