First, though, comes our Darling Damson jam, which has one of the most eye-catching labels. As ever, keep reading for more about Sarah Nechamkin’s brilliant design, which quite literally looks like an eye.
With the children back in school - finally - we celebrated by scooping up the jam hound and heading to Faversham in Kent to see David, who grows our damsons. (He grows them for other people as well, but we like to think of them as ours.) David has been growing damsons for 25 years, which is 24 more than he’d bargained for after buying some land that came with an orchard that was due to be “grubbed” - the technical term for uprooting trees.
“I was going to hang onto the orchard for one year, but I was so pleased with what we got off the trees we ended up expanding and getting some trees propagated to plant another orchard,” he tells us, after we’d loaded 2 tonnes of his damsons into our Landrover. And he hasn’t looked back.
After frost in April (which is almost the title of a novel by Antonia White), he’d assumed this year’s damson crop would be a write off but it turned out to be a “reasonable” haul. Unlike his Bramley apples, which were almost decimated by the cold spring, he adds.
Although damsons could do with their Nigella moment - “They need Delia or Jamie or Prue to make a damson muffin instead of a blueberry muffin” - David thinks the fruit is gaining in popularity. That said, while he was manning the stall he has three times a week in Faversham market, his pile of purple beauties did cause some confusion as well as delight.
“One person thought they were black grapes and someone else thought they were giant blueberries,” he says. Damons can be used for anything from gin and vinegar to jam and chutneys but David’s penchant is for damson crumble. “It’s fantastic.”
For a slightly different damson hit, our Damson Cheese is something pretty special. NB, this isn’t cheese in the traditional sense, but a thick fruit paste.
“We call this a ‘cheese’ because any food sustenance that was made into a solid form or a block used to be referred to as a cheese. Taking out the water is a very old way of preserving things, helping fruit to last throughout winter in some capacity,” says Sky.
In her encyclopaedic compilation of recipes, The Book of Household Management, published in 1860, Isabella Beeton includes a recipe for damson cheese, but the concoctions date back to Tudor times, when they would have been made in very ornate moulds. June Taylor, a perfectionist preserver based in Rockridge, California, is our favourite for ornate inspiration over on Instagram where you can find her making damson pastilles @jamwifey.
Pastilles, pastes, membrillos, cheeses: they’re all essentially the same thing. “When Kai and I used to work in farmers’ markets selling our fruit cheese, we’d get people telling us all the different names for it in different languages,” says Sky.
“Our damson cheese has a really intense, clean flavour and it looks really beautiful. It goes very well with younger lactic cheeses like a young goats cheese or with a blue cheese. Also, my kids love it for pudding if we haven’t got anything else.”
Meet the Designers
Ever noticed how much the print on our Darling Damson label looks so much like damsons? We’re not saying Sarah Nechamkin was thinking about fruit when she came up with that pattern paper for the Curwen Press but we’re not saying she wasn’t.
Born in London in 1917, Nechamkin was another artist whose vibrant designs were used for many book jackets, including a selection of poems by Byron published by Penguin. Her work as a book illustrator includes several collections of fairy tales, legends and nursery rhymes. One of her paintings, Landscape, 1960, has been part of the Tate collection since 1975.
Nechamkin’s parents were artists, as was her uncle. She studied under the influential art teacher Nan Youngman, and later at the Chelsea School of Art. As well as her work as an illustrator, Nechamkin also worked as a nurse and the West London Hospital and taught at the Clapton School for Girls. She moved to Ibiza in 1961, lured by the island’s vibrant colours, which she kept painting into her 90s. She died in 2017.
Slice of Life