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Wild Damsons

The common damson (Prunus institia) is a bluish-black juicy native plum of Europe and Asia. Also known as the Plum of Damascus or Damascus Plum (Damascenum), it is larger than New World plums. Native damsons have been cultivated since ancient times for fruit, jams, jellies, wines, and dried prunes. It was brought to America long ago and has escaped cultivation and is sometimes found in large stands in the wild.

Domesticated and hybrid varieties do not propagate true from their seed. If germinated, the seed will usually produce the rootstock upon which the hybrid or cultivar was grafted. More often than not, this is the wild plum or damson.

Wild damsons make an excellent wine, but, like cherry wines, it must be aged for some time to "come into its own." When fermentation ends, wild damson wine is almost undrinkable and the winemaker will be tempted to either over-sweeten it to overcome its astringency or toss it out altogether. Either course of action would be a mistake. The correct action is to simply put the wine in a dark, cool place and forget about it for at least one year. Damson wine is best when finished slightly sweet, but it does okay as a sweet or dessert wine and is very good with glazed or stuffed fowl, especially wild fowl. Personally, I like it fermented to dryness (S.G. 0.990) or semi-dryness (S.G. 0.995 to 1.000) and well aged (2-3 years).


Put 1/2 gallon water on to boil. Meanwhile, wash, sort, destem, and destone the fruit. Transfer fruit and any juice to nylon straining bag in primary graduated (marked) by pints to one gallon, add grape concentrate, boiling water, cover and allow to cool to lukewarm. Add crushed Campden, recover and wait 12 hours. Crush fruit by hand by squeezing bag. Mix in half the sugar, stirring well to dissolve. Lift the bag of fruit and allow to drain about two minutes, then add water to bring liquid up to 7 pints. Return bag to liquid, measure and note S.G., and then add acid blend, tannin, pectic enzyme, and yeast nutrient. After 12 hours, add yeast. Twice daily squeeze bag of pulp. After 7 days of fermentation, drip drain bag of pulp 2-3 hours, squeezing gently at end to coax additional juice from bag. Do not squeeze vigorously. Add drained juice to primary and use hydrometer chart to determine how much additional sugar to add to achieve S.G. of 1.095 (find previously measured S.G. on chart and determine how much sugar to add to that to achieve target S.G. of 1.095). Add sugar and stir well to dissolve. Allow to settle overnight and then rack into secondary and fit airlock without topping up. After 7 days top up. Rack after one month, top up and refit airlock, and repeat after additional two months. When wine clears, wait one additional month, rack, top up, refit airlock, and set aside for bulk aging. Check water level in airlock monthly. After 6 months stabilize, wait 10 days, rack if needed, sweeten to taste and bottle. Do not drink for one year.[Adapted recipe from W.H.T. Tayleur's The Penguin Book of Home Brewing & Wine-Making]

This page was updated on November 8th, 2001.

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