Frederick Nutt (and Me) on Making ‘Damson Ice Cream’

"Take three ounces of preserved damsons, pound them and break the stones of them, put them into a bason, squeeze in two lemons, and a pint of cream ; press them through a sieve and freeze it."

Frederick Nutt, The Complete Confectioner 2nd edition, 1790

We’re taking a leaf from ol’ Frederick Nutt’s book again today, this time having a look at his recipe for damson ice cream. I found a reference to this one in Sarah Conrad Gothie’s excellent book Damsons, An Ancient Fruit in the Modern Kitchen[1] when I was looking for interesting ways to use up some of this year’s haul of damsons[2] from the tree in the Plot #79 orchard.

Frederick tells his readers to use preserved damsons rather than fresh ones, which removes the need to cook them, and the process seems very straightforward: mash the damsons, pick out the stones, mix in lemon juice and cream, pass the mixture through a sieve[3] before freezing.[4].

In her book, Sarah says that Mr. Nutt’s method for making ice cream results in a bowl of something that “tastes more of lemon than of damson” and “has a crumbly texture that melts to soft foam”. Neither of which really sounded all that appealing to me. And so, I took to that fount of all helpful knowledge – Twitter – to see if there was a more modern method for combining two of my very favourite things [5] into a dessert that’s worth the time and effort of making myself:

I was swiftly rewarded with this very helpful and concisely detailed response from @smallholderific:

Wonderful! A nice, simple method, and by the sounds of it, good results at the end. Here’s how I got on:

How to Make ‘Damson Ripple’ Ice Cream

TL:DR Version

For this recipe, you will need:

  • 1 large pot (approx 600ml) of double cream
  • 1 tin (approx. 400g) of condensed milk
  • 450g of (cooked and cooled) damson coulis
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Electric food mixer, or whisk
  • Large plastic tub, with clip-lock lid

To prepare the damsons:

  1. Cook approx 1.5Kg of damsons down to a pulp. Do not add sugar at this stage.
  2. Pass the cooked damson pulp through a colander to remove the stones and skins.
  3. Cool the resulting coulis overnight in the fridge.

To make the ice-cream:

  1. Add the double cream and condensed milk to a large mixing bowl to make the ice cream base.
  2. Whip the base mixture with the electric food-mixer until soft peaks form.
  3. Taste the base mix and, if it isn’t sweet enough for you, blend in a drizzle of sugar syrup, maple syrup or a.n.other syrup, to taste.
  4. Fold in the damson coulis, trying not to retain as much air in the mixture as possible.
  5. Pour into a large, clip-lock plastic tub and put in the freezer.
  6. You can re-whip the ice-cream after 2-3 hours to break up any large ice crystals, but this will reduce the ‘ripple’ effect, leading to a more uniform, blended finish.
  7. After 4-5 hours, test for consistency and if ready: enjoy!

Detailed Method, with Explanatory Notes

1. First, Pick Your Damsons

I’m going back a step here, but there’s an important point that needs to be made if you’re going to use fresh damsons straight off the tree, as I did.

Damsons[6] are as prone to infestation by plum moth as any other member of the Prunus genus. And the last thing you want to see as you cook them down is the tell-tale trails of moth larvae frass[7] bubbling away in your pan.

The quickest way to check for inhabitants is to test the firmness of the damson fruit. If they are nicely firm, but not solid to the point of being rock-hard, then they’re likely to be both ripe[8] and nicely pest-free. If there’s a little give in them, they’re probably either slightly over-ripe, or inhabited; it’s a good idea to slice these ones open and double-check. If the fruit is squishy, or if you spot a larvae exit-hole, like this one (complete with obligingly in-shot insect larvae of some sort)…

…throw them away, rather than take any chances.

Alternatives to picking fresh damsons from the tree include using shop-bought damsons, or fetching some of last year’s crop out of the freezer, either in whole or coulis form. But fresh is probably best, flavour-wise.

2. Cook Your Damsons

This next stage is simplicity itself: chuck your damsons into a large saucepan, add a splash of boiling water – just to reduce the risk of them catching and burning on the bottom of the pan – then put the lid on the pan and heat them gently until they reach a good simmer. Then give them a vigorous stir and leave them on a low heat for 15-20 minutes, until the fruit has burst open and reduced to a gloriously purple-coloured mush:

My top tip at this stage is: don’t add any sugar when cooking your damsons. Two reasons for this: firstly, you’ll be adding the damsons to a base mixture of double cream and condensed milk, the latter of which is highly likely to be pre-sweetened. It’s far better to see how sugary this base mix turns out to be, and adjust the sweetness of either the base – by adding plain sugar syrup, maple syrup or a.n.other syrup to taste – or the damsons when you combine them at a later stage, rather than over-sweetening now.

Secondly, and mainly, although damsons have a reputation for being bitter or sour, that’s just not true of a properly ripe damson, especially one that’s been cooked. Ripe and ready damson fruit has a wonderfully deep, complex flavour that’s certainly not sugary, but still combines elements of slight sourness and sharpness with enough sweetness to make it eminently palatable. And if you’re going to mask that flavour with added sugar, then you might as well use a sweet dessert plum instead of the damsons, eh?

Next, you’ll need to pass the cooked damsons through a colander to remove the stones and skins; mainly to improve the texture of the finished ice cream, but also to prevent the bitterness of the skins and/or under-ripe fruit from affecting the flavour[9]. The easiest way to do this is to stand a large colander in an even larger mixing bowl, then scoop in a couple of ladles’ worth of cooked damsons at a time, and press them through the colander with a flexible spatula. It takes a bit of work but is well worth the effort. The result will be a fabulous coulis of bright purple damson pulp, like this one:

This needs to go into the fridge, preferably overnight, to cool to a useable temperature[10]. In the meantime though, just look at the colour of that coulis! Superb, isn’t it? And it’s delicious as it stands, too, as a topping for porridge, rice pudding, cake or ice cream. Speaking of which…

3. Make the Ice Cream Base

Combine the double cream and condensed milk into a bowl, like so:

Side note: having read the label, seen the calorie count, and felt my arteries hardening in anticipation, I opted for the “light” condensed milk[11] option from Carnation (widely available here in the UK) rather than the full-strength one, and it didn’t seem to adversely affect the finished product.

Next, using a hand-held electric mixer, or a stand mixer, or even an old-school hand-whisk[12] beat the mixture until you achieve the sort of ‘soft peaks’ that leave trails and ridges in the bowl, and a mixture that doesn’t drip off the mixer beaters, like so:

Then take around 450g of your chilled damson coulis and add it to the base mix…

… and gently fold it into the base mix with a spatula, taking care not to stir too vigorously, as you want to keep as much air in the ice cream as you can:

Once you have mixed the base and damson coulis to your satisfaction – bearing in mind that to achieve the ‘ripple’ effect you don’t want to blend them too thoroughly – carefully pour and scrape the ice cream into a large plastic tub with a clip-lock lid, ready for the freezer:

Then put the box into the freezer and… wait.

Technical note: the freezing process creates ice crystals in the ice cream, and the more and larger the ice crystals, the crumblier the finished product is likely to be, as per Frederick Nutt’s original recipe. To reduce the amount or volume of large crystals, you can – as I was advised to do by a couple of other Twitter users – re-blend the ice cream after a couple of hours – again, with an electric mixer, or with a strong whisk or fork if you prefer to mix by hand – which will break the ice crystals into smaller units and result in a smoother finish.

However, I was assured by @smallholderific that this particular base mix results in a relatively smooth finished ice cream without re-blending, and I didn’t want to lose that ‘ripple’ effect by re-mixing, so I decided to leave it as-is.

And the end result? Well, here’s how it looked after around 4 hours in the freezer:

Click play to watch the video (23.6Mb)

Still a little gooey in the middle, but solid around the outside. Perfect[13]. And how did it taste..?

Honestly? It was absolutely delicious! I don’t have much of a sweet tooth these days so the ice cream base, with its flavours of plain cream and just enough sugariness from the condensed milk, was rich and unctuous, without setting my teeth on edge with over-sweetness. The damson coulis retained all its complexity of flavour, and the ripple effect meant that these two flavour profiles – one sweetish, the other sharp and incredibly fruity – merged and melded in varying degrees in every mouthful. Wonderful stuff.

Your tastes may vary, of course. You might want to use full-strength condensed milk for the base mix, to up the sweetness. You might even be tempted to add sugar to the damson coulis – although again I’d suggest that if you want a sweeter fruit flavour then just use dessert plums instead, rather than risking masking the elegance of the damsons – and if so then that’s absolutely up to you, of course.

Personally though, I absolutely loved the low-sugar version. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that this has to be one of the tastiest, most grown-up, intriguingly flavourful and downright delightful ice creams I’ve tried to-date[14]. The fact that I was able to make around a kilo of the stuff for the price of a tub of cream, a tin of condensed milk, a batch of home-grown damsons and the time and energy it takes to cook, blend and freeze it, made it all the more enjoyable. And it was even better with a dollop of the damson coulis on top.

I’ll definitely be making my own damson ripple ice cream again next summer[15] as well as experimenting with other fruit flavours – quince, medlar and (if I ever get a large enough crop) morello cherry all spring to mind – and I’m actually wondering whether I’ll ever again want to buy ice cream in for home consumption. Seriously, it was that good. I’m a definite convert, and would like to say a big “thank you!” to @smallholderific for passing on the recipe.

So, how about you? Have you made your own ice cream before? Do you have any other top tips for enhancing the method above? Are you inspired to give it a try? Do you fancy making Frederick Nutt’s original version? Can you think of any more grown-up flavours I could have a go at?

Please do let me know your thoughts, suggestions and ice cream flavour recommendations, via the comments form, below[16].

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 I reviewed Damsons in a Book Notes post last year.
2 We picked 2.3kg in the first sweep last week and, coincidentally, another 2.3kg last weekend.
3 This would most likely have been a wood-framed hair sieve in Frederick’s day, so probably not as fine as modern metal sieves
4 If you’re interested in the history of ice cream and ice cream making, I can heartily recommend this video from Max Miller’s rather superb Tasting History YouTube channel:

5 Damsons and ice cream are both very dear to my taste buds indeed.
6 Prunus institia, or Prunus domestica subsp. insititia to give them their full binomial.
7 Via Wikipedia: “The English usage applies to excreted residues of anything that insects had eaten, and similarly, to other chewed or mined refuse that insects leave behind.” So, basically: faeces.
8 You can, and indeed should, taste a few to make sure. Then a few more, just to make absolutely sure. Then a few more, just for luck.
9 The colander-passing will also reduce the risk of you breaking a tooth on a damson stone when you tuck into your ice cream.
10 If you’re in a hurry you could try standing the bowl of coulis in an even larger bowl of iced water to bring it down to the right temperature.
11 If you really want to cut down on the calories, you could opt for evaporated milk – which is unsweetened – rather than condensed – which has sugar added – but of course the flavour of the finished ice cream will be quite different.
12 Fair warning: I can only suggest the manual whisking option if you are feeling masochistic. Or if you really want to give your mixing wrist one hell of a work-out.
13 It set rock-hard after another day or two, so I’d advise removing it from the freezer and allowing it to thaw for an hour or two before serving.
14 And believe me, I’ve tried a lot of ice creams…
15 I have a few packets of pre-weighed 450g of damson coulis in the freezer already.
16 Apologies if your comment takes a little while to appear, or to be responded to. My comment setting require someone’s first contribution to be moderated by me before it goes live, to help reduce the incidence of spam. After that, your comments and replies should appear straight away.

2 comments

  1. This does look amazing. I’ve not made my own ice-cream for a while, but you’re right, it is worth the effort. I want to have a go at making ginger ice-cream, using preserved ginger in syrup. I also think quince and green cardamon could work.

    1. Hi Christopher – Yes indeed, stem ginger (or maybe stewed pear and ginger?) sounds like a definite one to try, and I think your quince and cardamon idea is very, very intriguing…

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