Chinese Plum Sauce

What do you do with tens of kilos of damson plums?

Share them.

Make jam – it’s almost as good as blackcurrant.

And make up a new recipe for Chinese plum sauce aka damson ketchup.

I must have read twenty recipes to get a feel for what I wanted.

I followed my old friend, Stephanie Alexander’s for plum sauce but changed the spices from old style English to Chinese.

I decided to squeeze the juice from a tablespoon of grated ginger rather than add it whole to the sauce.

I roasted the spices and roughly crushed them and tied them in a piece of muslin to go in the 3 kilos of stewed damsons that I’d pureed through a large holed food mill removing the stones as I went.

The basic recipe I followed morphed and ended up including 2 medium sized roasted sweet potatoes which I skinned, added and blended.

I’m pretty pleased with how it’s turned out.

It made a dozen smallish bottles to give away and a big bottle for the pantry.

5 from 1 vote
Chinese Plum Sauce
Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
2 hrs
Total Time
3 hrs

Sweet and sour sauce for stir fries or as a condiment on sandwiches or salads

Author: Cath
  • 3 kg damson plums, washed and de-stalked
  • 2 1/2 cups (UK) brown sugar
  • 3 cups (UK) white or cider vinegar
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes (roasted whole and skinned)
  • 1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 whole star anise
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 3/4 tsp sichuan pepper or dried chillies
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1/2 long cinnamon stick
  1. Stew the damsons in a large preserving pan or saucepan with only the water that they have clinging to them after being washed. Stir frequently to prevent them sticking on the bottom of the pan. This should only take 20 mins to 1/2 and hour.

  2. In stages, pour the stewed damsons into large food mill and push through - removing the stones as you go. I used my bare fingers as I found gloves stopped me from picking them out cleanly. I just rinsed my hands between times.

  3. You should now have a large pot of damson puree to which you add the sugar and vinegar and bring to a slow simmer.

  4. While this is brewing, roast your whole spices in a dry pan watching carefully to avoid burning. Then crush roughly in a mortar and pestle before tying securely in a piece of muslin.

  5. Add the muslin to the damsons along with the juice of the ginger - use your hand to squeeze it firmly - you should be left with the dryish pulp which you can add to your compost.

  6. Season with the salt and cook for an hour or so. Then remove the spices in the muslin and add the roasted sweet potato flesh.

  7. Remove from the heat and puree preferably with a stick blender. Bring back to a simmer and then remove from the heat.

  8. Pour into clean hot sterilised bottles or jars.





The Greens Kale and Potato Soup with Red Chili

This is described in the Greens Cook Book as a “vigorous and deeply satisfying winter soup” but actually all the ingredients are in their prime now, in late summer.

But yes, I agree – they will go on to nourish us through the darker, colder months as well.

I have three kinds of kale, the red ruffles of Sutherland Kale are cheek by jowl with the showy more jagged leaves of my white kale and the dark green almost black plumes of Cavolo Nero which I used for the soup.

My chillies are beginning to turn red – they dangle like earrings off the short squat leafy plants that I have in pots outside the back door.

And I’ve just lifted the potatoes – blight resistant varieties for the most part.


This soup is one of my favourites and we had it for lunch yesterday.


The Greens Cook Book Kale and Potato Soup with Red Chili
Servings: -4 people
Author: Cath
  • 1 bunch kale about 12 to 14 big leaves
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 6 cloves garlic finely sliced
  • 1 red chili, finely chopped you can also use dried chili, or flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 medium potatoes, scrubbed, washed and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 tsp nutritional yeast (optional)
  • 7 US cups water or stock a little over 1.6 litres
  1. Using a sharp knife, cut the washed kale leaves off their stems. Slice the leaves thinly then chop roughly.

  2. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot, add onion, garlic, chili, bay leaf and salt, and cook over medium heat for three to four minutes, stirring frequently.

  3. Add the potatoes and nutritional yeast, if using, plus a cup of the water or stock. Stir and cover to cook for five minutes.

  4. Add the kale, cover and steam until it is wilted, stirring occasionally.

  5. Pour in the rest of the water or stock (I use Marigold bouillon powder) and bring to the boil and simmer, covered, until the potatoes are quite soft, 30 to 30 minutes.

  6. Use the back of a wooden spoon to break up the potatoes against the side of the pot or puree and cup or two in a blender and return it to the pot.

  7. Taste for salt and add a generous grinding of pepper. If possible let the soup sit for an hour or so before serving to allow the flavours to further develop.

  8. Serve without any garnish.


My Top Ten Cookery Writers

One of my greatest inspirations in the kitchen is the Greens Cook Book.

I’ve just made a kale, potato and chilli soup from it for lunch.

My sister, Deb, gave it to me many years ago and I think she came across it when she was living in San Francisco where the Greens Restaurant is to be found.

I was so inspired I went there for lunch when I travelled to the West coast 20 years ago and I was not disappointed.

I remember the crisp white table linen, the sparkling wine glasses,  the view across the bay to Sausalito and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge nearby.

The food was pretty good too!

Black bean and fresh corn chilli followed by a delightfully wobbly pannacotta, I seem to remember.

After the trip the book enabled me to recreate dishes like that back at home.

It was only on closer inspection that I realised one of the authors, Ed Espe Brown had written another of my cookery bibles, The Tassajara Cook Book.

It’s more of a manual than a conventional cook book.

It described the alchemy of cooking and taught me how to trust my taste and intuition and to use what was to hand.

Ed also showed me there was more than one way to chop a carrot!

Other books that have inspired me are those passed down by my mother.

Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David’s slightly academic, scholarly tomes adorn our bookshelves alongside newcomers like Yotam Ottolenghi, Dennis Cotter (owner of Cork’s Paradiso restaurant) and Rebecca Wood who wrote The Splendid Grain recommended to me by my late friend, John Mixer VII.

I also treasure my copy of Claudia Roden’s A New Book of Middle Eastern Food, given to me by fellow Sacred Harp Singer Lin James.

Marcella Hazan’s Italian cook books and Fuschia Dunlop’s books about Szechuan cookery also rate highly in my pantheon of cookbook writer greats.

And I can’t leave out Madhur Jaffrey and Stephanie Alexander.

They’ve become like old friends and during this pandemic are even more important windows to other worlds.

Who’s inspired you in the kitchen?

I’d love to know more about your influences.



Mulberry Vodka

The mulberries have started falling and staining the grass under the tree canopy.

It’s hard to harvest them. You don’t pick them but by the time you’ve found the easily bruised fruit many are past their best.

I got a sheet and a ladder and shook some of the lower branches and gathered half a tubful.

I’ve got some vodka to make a fruit liqueur.

A couple of years ago I made one with grated quince and sugar.

Today I thought it was the turn of the mulberries.

I washed and sterilised the jar but didn’t wash the fruit.

I added a tablespoon of sugar for every three tablespoons of fruit and layered as I went – covering it all with vodka which I will leave for a few months to mature.

I might give it a shake every now and then.

Then I’ll strain it through muslin and serve it with white wine or champagne – a bit like kir.Facebooktwitterpinterestmail

Squashed In

I’m growing winter squash on top of one of the compost heaps.

The two Crown Prince plants seem to love the protected, sunny site with unlimited access to rich nutrients.

I’m growing my other smaller squash (Hokkaido) up a trellis –  also an experiment.

Two failed but there are six or seven more that have thrived despite being rolled on by pheasants trying to make shallow scrapes in the soil to nest.

My courgettes are just beginning to fruit – they take a good month to get established once they’ve been planted out but should now romp away.

The unknown variety of dwarf green beans are in flower so I have high hopes of harvesting them soon.

I’m looking forward to my favourite green bean and cashew curry for lunch!

I’ve mounded up my potatoes (Sarpo Mira, Sarpo Axona, Charlotte and Pink Fir Apple) with extra compost to stop light getting to the tubers and turning them green – I took Charles Dowding’s advice and just tipped a two litre pot filled with homemade rough compost over the base of the haulms or stems of each plant.

They should be ready in a month or so.

Finally we’ve been eating the artichokes dipped in olive oil and vinegar dressing.

Here’s a link to a very informative video by Sarah Raven showing you when to harvest and how to cook and eat artichokes.

We have two varieties in our garden.

Gros Vert de Laon is a traditional French heirloom variety producing the largest hearts of any artichoke.

The others are the smaller Green Globe artichokes.

Both have been grown from slips that my friends Julie and Cilla gave me about three years ago.

Apparently after you’ve harvested them you can cut the plants to the ground, leaves and all, and expect them to crop again six to eight weeks later.

I might try that with a couple of the plants to see if it really works!