Damson and Apple Cheese
‘Cheese’ is an old-fashioned English term for a seedless fruit preserve. This one, made with damsons and tart apples, is dense enough to slice and makes the perfect accompaniment to the sort of cheese we’re more familiar with (rather like an English version of membrillo, the Spanish quince paste often served with Manchego). You can pour the hot fruit purée into a fancy mould (such as a fluted bundt tin or jelly mould) and turn it out to make an impressive centrepiece for the cheeseboard, or serve more simply in jars. We tend to make a mixture: a moulded cheese for immediate consumption, and a few jars for eating later.
- 500g damsons
- 250g crab apples or cooking apples
- 1 large wood avens root, thoroughly cleaned (optional)
- Granulated sugar, about 400g
- Sunflower or other flavourless oil, for greasing
- Wash and drain the damsons and apples. Cut the apples into quarters (pips, skin and all). Put the fruit into a large pan with the wood avens root (if using) and add 300ml water.
- Set the pan over a medium heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook, partially covered, for about 30 minutes until the fruit is completely soft. Put a heatproof saucer in the freezer to chill.
- Pick out and discard the wood avens root (if using), then pass the fruit and any juices through a seive. Press with the underside of a ladle or the back of a wooden spoon to coax as much of the pulp through as you can. Discard the skins, damson stones and apple pips.
- Put the fruit pulp into a measuring jug – you should have around 600ml. Measure out 100g sugar for every 150ml of pulp. Put the pulp and sugar back into the rinsed out pan, and set over a low heat. Stir gently to dissolve the sugar and bring to a simmer.
- Cook for about 1¼ hours, stirring frequently (because of the high sugar content, the mixture can burn easily, so keep an eye on it) until the mixture is thickened and your wooden spoon leaves a clear trail in the pan. To test for a ‘set’, take the pan off the heat and remove the chilled saucer from the freezer. Drop about a half teaspoon of cheese onto the saucer. After a few seconds, drag your finger through the puddle – if its surface wrinkles and does not run back into the pathway made by your finger, then the cheese is ready. If it is still runny, return the pan to the heat and saucer to the freezer and test again in five minutes.
- If you’re going to put the cheese into fancy moulds, oil the moulds thoroughly but lightly (this is not necessary with the jars). Pour the fruit purée into the moulds and leave to cool before chilling overnight, to ensure the cheese is thoroughly set before unmoulding. Any leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month.
- If you’re using jars, make sure they are sterilised and at the ready. Pour in the hot cheese, leaving a little gap at the top, and put on the lids. These will keep in a cool place for up to 6 months.
Recipe and photos by Otherwise for Wild Food UK