A damson plum is the fruit of the damson tree, which is indigenous to the Middle East and Eastern Europe but is also grown in Western Europe, Great Britain, and the US. These plums are usually oval in shape and have a dark purple skin. In the past, their skins were used to create dyes. Today, they are most commonly used to make jams and a liqueur known as slivovitz.
The damson tree takes its name from the city of Damascus — in present-day Syria — where it was first cultivated many centuries ago. From here, damson tree cultivation spread to ancient Rome. The Romans subsequently introduced the tree to Great Britain, and British colonists in turn brought it to America. These trees grow to around 15 feet (4.57 m) in height, and are generally quite resistant to disease. They produce small white flowers in the springtime and plums in the early fall.
In general, the damson plum is oval or egg-shaped. Its skin is deep purple or dark blue in color. The flesh or inner part of a damson plum normally ranges from yellow to yellow-green.
Historical records suggest that the skin of the damson plum was commonly used by the ancient Romans to produce purple and blue dyes. These dyes could then be used to color textiles. The Romans may have introduced the damson tree to the British Isles for this purpose.
Usually, the skin of a damson plum is highly acidic. This acid gives the plums a bitter taste which many people find unpleasant. Thus, damson plums are rarely eaten as-is. They are, however, commonly used to make jams and to produce an alcoholic beverage known as slivovitz.
Damson plum jam is generally made by stewing chopped damson plums, sugar, and water on a stovetop until thickened. Many find that the tartness of the plums and the sweetness of the sugar make a pleasing combination. This type of jam can be difficult to find in US shops, but can be easily made at home.
Another common use for the damson plum is the manufacture of slivovitz, a type of brandy popular in Eastern and Central Europe. Slivovitz is made by pressing and distilling damson plums. The distilled plum juice is then mixed with starch or sugar, fermented, and left to age in wooden or steel casks. Once aged, slivovitz usually has a subtle almond flavor. It is commonly consumed as a digestif, or post-meal drink.