The nature of things
Damsons, sloes and gages
WE’RE well into the plummiest season. Yellow orbs have formed on the gages we planted, becoming riper and more translucent with each passing day. There won’t be enough for jam today, or even tomorrow, but Bunyard’s peerless recommendation (in The Epicure’s Companion, 1937) made them a necessary addition to the garden. ‘For some reason Nature has decreed that the best flavoured shall be mainly those of green or yellow hue, and… to my taste the Transparent gage excels it,’ he advised. ‘This is a fruit of distinction; its pale amber, almost translucent, just washed with crimson, shows that for once beauty and goodness can be combined, in the vegetable world at least.’
Early Transparent (top right) kicks off the season in August; the Lates ripen by mid September. The season winds up in early October with the Golden Transparent, ‘a flavour unequalled, and sufficient juice for refreshment, but not enough for a bath which some plums decide to bestow’.
Like gages and plums, the indigo-purple damson (bottom) emerged from hybrids of blackthorn and cherry plum. Many were planted near houses and farmsteads, but numerous wild trees occur in hedgerows and fruit specialists offer recommended cultivars. Their jams, jellies and prunes give an unmatched taste of autumn. Sour sloes (top left) are traditionally picked after the first frost and best turned into sloe gin. KBH
Illustration by Bill Donohoe