The Westmorland Damson is a local food grown in the picturesque Lyth Valley. The county of Westmorland is now part of the larger Cumbrian county, which encapsulates the English Lake District and the lands of Furness and Lancashire.
The Damson is a member of the plum family. These local damsons are thought to derive from the Shropshire prune variety which have been improved by the special growing conditions found around Morecambe Bay and maybe through some cross pollination with wild Bullaces and Sloes. They are mainly grown in the orchards of the Lyth and Winster Valleys, which are located south west of Kendal. The unique orchards in the Lyth Valley surround each farmstead and grow along every hedgerow in the valley. The orchards blossom in April, with the fruit ripening by September. They grow as far north as Scotland but favour the wetter conditions provided in the western side of England and the productive life of a tree is about 50 years.
Damsons have a rich history originating from Damascus in Syria. Their journey to England is believed to have happened through the Crusaders who brought back damson stones to try, but Damson trees have also been found around the sites of Roman camps. Damson skins were used for the manufacturing of purple dye from Roman times and have been sold in Westmorland since the early 1700s!
Until the outbreak of the second world war in 1939, Kendal was full of carts selling damsons on Damson Saturday and many were taken by train to jam factories in Lancashire. Today Damsons are used for a variety of products including jams, jellies and chutneys.
The Westmorland Damson Association was created in 1996 to help increase the sale of Lyth Valley Damsons and preserve the existing orchards, whilst helping fund the creation of new ones. Sales had gradually declined since the 1950s so one method of promoting the brand was the creation of ‘Damson Day.’ The event is held in mid-April to coincide with the damson blossom and attracts around 3000 local people. People can peruse local damson products and even join guided walks around the idyllic orchards to help raise money for the association. Local pubs and restaurants who use damsons in their menu may even receive rosettes!
Chair of the Westmorland Damson Association, Mark says “Some of my favourite recipes are damson chutney, damson clafoutis and a damson gelato ice cream that I make from damson purée!”
We are delighted to have these heritage damsons in selected stores this September.