The Circus Gardener's Kitchen

seasonal vegetarian recipes with a side helping of food politics

damson ketchup

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In 1804, the total population of the human race on planet Earth finally reached one billion.

It took a further 123 years for it to reach 2 billion. From there, to reach 3 billion took just a further 33 years. It hit 4 billion 14 years later, 5 billion after another 13, and 6 billion after another 12.

That was at the turn of the 21st century, and now we stand at over 7.3 billion, with our numbers continuing to rise exponentially.

At first the post war “green revolution” in agriculture promised to be able to feed this mushrooming population through industrial scale farming and the liberal use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and artificial fertilizers, designed to maximise yields and wring out every drop of potential from the soil.

Indeed, so successful was the “green revolution” that it led to periods of scandalous overproduction – it was just a generation ago we had “wine lakes” and “butter mountains” within the European Union and huge corn surpluses in the USA, all generated by overly favourable subsidies to farmers.

Since then the planet’s human population has already doubled whilst the returns from the “green revolution” have begun to diminish, such that we have reached the point where are no longer capable of producing enough food to feed everyone.

When it ultimately fails, this relatively brief human period of environmentally catastrophic industrialised farming and food production will leave us with a legacy of millions of acres of once arable land lost to soil degradation and desertification, widespread drought and global warming.

Furthermore, modern agriculture’s failure to deliver on its early promise has meant we have now resorted to plundering irreplaceable base resources simply to keep up with this ever growing demand for food. We raid precious underground aquifers for irrigation water that will never be replaced, We degrade and destroy soil structures through the continued overuse of agricultural chemicals and through overgrazing. Our folly is not confined to the land we farm. At sea we now fish on such an indiscriminate industrial scale that we routinely destroy fish breeding grounds.

No wonder every country in the world is increasingly anxious about food security. We are about to witness a slow motion car crash, a collision between a population growth out of control and a food supply that has peaked and whose downward trajectory will shortly begin to gather momentum.

If it is not already too late for our species it soon will be unless we return to the unambiguous wisdom of sustainable food production and recognise that we simply cannot continue at our present level of population growth.

damsons growingforaged damsonsgarlicdamsons poached in cider vinegar

On that jolly note, let’s turn to the recipe.

I’ve used damsons to make this ketchup, foraged from wild damson trees growing just a few minutes walk from my home. (Why don’t we plant more fruit trees in public places? They could be a source of free, healthy food).

This easy sauce is at once spicy, sweet and sour, and delicious. It will keep for several months.

damson ketchup

  • Servings: makes 2-3 bottles
  • Print

500 g fresh damsons, stones removed
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
125 ml cider vinegar
100 g coconut sugar
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 star anise
½ tsp sea salt


1. Place the damsons in a large saucepan with the cider vinegar, coconut sugar and star anise. Place over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for a further 5 minutes until it has turned to pulp. Set to one side and leave to cool for 15 minutes, or until you can comfortably retrieve the star anise and the stones from the mixture.

2. Add the chilli, garlic, ginger, coriander, cinnamon and sea salt to the pan and place it back on a medium heat. When it reaches boiling point, reduce to a simmer and cook for a further 10 minutes or until the ketchup has thickened. Leave to cool before processing in a blender to a smooth consistency and then bottling in sterilised containers.

Categories: dairy free, gluten free, vegan

Tags: , , , , , ,

12 replies

  1. What a great alternative to usual ketchup. I love this time of year for finding blackberries and making crumbles.

  2. A projected 9.7 billion by 2050 right? Love the recipe, sounds utterly delicious and very very creative. Awesome, What’s it good with?

  3. Look forward to trying this one Steve x

  4. I no longer have damson trees since selling off most of my garden (just doing my bit to help the housing shortage!) so I have made the ketchup with plums. I have to say it’s delicious and may never reach the bottling stage. I reduced the sugar a bit and gently liquidised it as there were quite big lumps of plum left in it. Another success, Steve. Thank you.

  5. This is such a unique recipe! I love it! A damson ketchup just looks and sounds SO divine.

  6. This is so intriguing. I have never heard of this and I am so eager to try it! Sometimes the acidity of the tomatoes gets to be too much for me so this is a welcomed alternative. Thanks!

  7. I’m sure I read somewhere that the planting of fruit trees in public places is frowned upon by councils because the fruit may drop from the trees and mess up the pavement… or maybe I imagined that one! Glad to read Malcolm’s comment about using plums in the ketchup – we have no damsons but plenty of plums, and your recipe sounds too good to miss out on making.

  8. Accidentally stumbled upon this site, and how more timely could it be, what with tons of damson plums in our back yard. Great idea! Thanks.

  9. And me being me I’m thinking of ways this recipe could be happily fermented 🙂

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