Lyth Valley Damsons, Cumbria
The damson may have originated in Syria – its name is derived from Damascus – but in this country it thrives best in a rather less clement climate, that of the Lyth Valley in Cumbria , or its near neighbour the Winster Valley. So much a part of the area are they that there is an organisation, The Westmoreland Damson Association, dedicated to the fruit and products made from it.
In fact the damson which grows in such abundance in Cumbria is a tough local version, with family ties to the Shropshire plum and the wild bullace and sloe. In the relative shelter of the Lyth Valley the trees bearing it prosper, their white blossom celebrated with a special Damson Day in the area every April.
The sharp but delightful flavour of the fruit lends itself to many uses: stoned and put in pies it is a winner; or made into ice cream. But in farming country not over-blessed with other fruits the damson in times past was preserved in a variety of ways to augment the diet through the year, ways that are still as valid and as delicious today: sharp damson jam and jelly; damson gin; and damson wine – even a damson beer (try it – lovely stuff) made locally on Cartmel Fell.