When life gives you bullace… you go straight to your favourite cook to see what she does with things plummy.
Bullace, for those who are in the same ignorance as I was until about ten years ago, is (or are) a variety of plum. When you find it growing wild it is well worth waiting for the fruits and then picking a lovely free ingredient. You might have to keep returning since the fruits ripen on a daily basis, replacing ones missed previously which will already be softening and browning.
There appears to be no rhyme or reason to the location or quality of the annual harvest. This summer a neighbour’s tree produced nothing more than a dozen or so fruits which have fallen and been squished on the path outside. I decided to find out what was on offer in the spinney at the end of our road. And there was a tree dripping with yellow bounty. I went back for reinforcements from Mrs Cheoff and we picked about three kilos in no time.
Time for the favourite cook. In my case, that would be Diana Henry who is a being of joy and loveliness in my life through her cookbooks, writings and broadcasts.
I have made her ‘Damson Cheese’ over the last few years. Mostly with damsons. Occasionally with larger ‘ordinary’ plums. I once took my eye off the boil (sic) and transformed one batch from ‘soggy bottom’ to ‘burnt bum’ and had to bin it. The good efforts have always been greeted with approval, whether served with cheeses or as a fruity petit four.
Diana Henry’s recipe is straightforward enough, and works for quince and damsons and plums.
I ended up with 1200 grams of purée (I weigh my liquids) and added 800 grams of sugar.
Whatever the fruit, it needs watching with the eyes of a hawk in the latter stages. Do that yourself if you do not own a hawk or if your local austringer* refuses to lend one to you.
* Rather pleased that I have read the wonderful ‘H Is For Hawk’ by Helen Macdonald and am able to distinguish between falconers and austringers.
The bullace we picked produced a purée much more liquid than previous plums and it reduced in a different way.
The texture was not the same as the usual fruit ‘cheese’ or membrillo. That has a grainy quality which stands up to cutting and handling without leaving too much stickiness on knife or fingers. I managed to stop at a stage where caramelisation wasn’t so far gone that it would form a brittle, hard-crack on cooling. I poured it into a 25 x 18 x 2 cm cling film lined tray and quartered the slab after a spell in the fridge. Which is where the wrapped pieces have been returned. All I have to do now is to resist the temptation of pulling off chunks for indulgent, unshared treats.
The results are a lovely flavour but set only slightly thicker than the jelly to be found in a Jaffa Cake. Sorry. What? Hold the horses! Stop the carriage, Mrs. Pumblegrind! I feel the twinge of a recipe idea...
Damsons are so nearly ready here in North Lincolnshire. A secret supply found somewhere or confirmation from a local greengrocer that deliveries are in will mean at least one more batch of this wonderful tracklement is made. I am more than happy with my sticky bronze jelly from bullace but the deep purple hues of damsons, like Diana Henry's recipes and her works, are a thing of seductive beauty.