Whilst walking the dogs the other day I noticed some plump sloes growing on a Blackthorn tree in the hedgerow – you are supposed to pick them after the first frost but we have an early fruit harvest this year so I think I will return in a week or so and gather them up to make Sloe Jelly. I was quite surprised at how fat and round they were to neighbouring Blackthorns which were withered with the drought.
Further down the hedge was a fruit that made me stop in my tracks: wild damsons! Our damsons in the orchard ripened weeks ago but these little fruits were still clinging to the tree. I tasted one of the wild ones and got quite a shock, the inky purple skin was quite tart with a mouth puckering dryness that is similar to a sloe . . . but the flesh inside gave a burst of sweetness. I think they are purple bullaces instead!
Bullaces are wild plums (which are related to sloes) – in fact the damson is a the cultivated form of the bullace (probably developed during Roman times) and this is why they are so hard to tell apart – until you taste one! If you'd like to learn more about damsons and recipes using them see my blog: Damsons, Mirabelles and Les Eymeries. Damsons are much sweeter than bullaces.
Bullaces can be used in pies, jams, game sauces, jellies and chutneys. They can also be used to make Bullace Gin (in the same way as sloes) and Bullace Wine. Mine will be used in Bullace Gin! This year I am going to add some almond essence to give it a lift (you can also use orange zest, cloves and cinnamon) – I'll let you know how it turns out.
If there are any left over there is a recipe which uses them with Sautéed Lamb:
Sautéed Lamb with Wild Plum (Bullace) and Fig
1.5 kg lamb shoulder, boned and cut in pieces
800 g wild plums (bullace), stoned
800 g figs
1 garlic clove
4 blades of parsley
30 g butter
1 tbsp peanut oil
200 ml dry white wine
salt and pepper
In the mixture of butter and oil fry the lamb on all sides with onions to a nice golden colour for approximately 10 minutes. Add white wine, salt , pepper, garlic and parsley, stir, cover and cook for 30 minutes on low heat. Add the bullace and figs and mix gently. Add some hot water if necessary. Check the taste and continue to cook for about 20 minutes.
Nick recommends a medium bodied red wine with this dish and Chateau Chevalier d'Albran would be ideal. It has a high percentage of Merlot in the blend (70%) and is smooth and elegant with notes of blackberry, vanilla, strawberry and ripe plum. You'll find its full, fruity flavours really enhance the meal. It is made by Chateau Mondain in the tiny hamlet of Juillac, close to Castillon La Bataille, on the left bank of the River Dordogne.
The Ciroli family have been making wine here since the second world war and the third generation are now in charge. No one knows when vines were first planted here but Juillac is named after the Roman Julius, who owned the land and Aqua (ac) meaning “Julius' villa on the river.” The Ciroli's named Chevalier d'Albran in homage to the legendary Knight who defended Juillac during the Aquitaine Conquests in the late 1350s against The Black Prince. It's said the Black Prince, son of King Edward III, acquired his name from the ornate black armour his father gave him when he was 16 after his victory at Crecy. Darker tales say he got his nick name due to his marauding through the lands of Juillac, Armagnac and Asterac!