D is for Damsons, Dates and Dark Chocolate


Damsons are a type of plum, but differ in shape and colour. Plums are round, and their colour ranges from blue, red, purple to black. Damsons are oblong-oval in shape and tend to be purple in colour, they have a large stone and are generally smaller than plums. Damsons

Damsons have a lower water content than plums, this means that the flesh does not disintegrate during cooking, making them ideal for using in cakes. You are more likely to eat plums raw as they are sweet and juicy, whereas damsons have a sweet-sour taste so generally better eaten cooked. The best way to store unripened plums and damsons is at room temperature in a paper bag. Once they are ripe they can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 weeks. The outside skin of a ripe damson has a fantastic smell.

Stewed damsons make a really quick pudding. Wash and halve the damsons. If the stone comes out easily remove it, otherwise leave it in for cooking. Place the halved damsons in a pan with about 1 tablespoon of water. Cover and gently simmer until they are soft and the stones come away easily from the flesh. If there is too much liquid just simmer with the lid off until you get the consistency you want. Serve hot or cold with custard, yoghurt or creme fraiche.


My first memories of dates, are from Christmas time when my Mum used to always buy a box of fresh dates. I can’t say I particularly liked them when I was young, however, eating them whole is possibly not the best way to taste them for the first time as they have quite an intense flavour.

Dates are one of the oldest cultivated fruits – it’s thought that they were a staple part of the Babylonian diet 8,000 years ago. Grown in North Africa and Israel, there are several varieties, but only a handful are exported to Britain. Available fresh or dried, they’re very sweet, with a rich, deep flavour and a lush, slightly chewy texture. The mahogany brown Medjool variety is the sweetest, and tastes a little like toffee.Dates

Dates grow in clusters on date palms and are oval/cylindrical in shape. They range in colour from yellow to red and then brown, with brown being the most common colour. Unlike other fruits, dried dates do not look that dissimilar to fresh ones. Regardless of whether you buy fresh or dried dates, the skin should be glossy and the fruit should be plump. The skin will be wrinkled but should not be cracked. Medjool dates are readily available in supermarkets, they have a deep flavour and are slightly chewy in texture.

Dates are Naturally sweet

Don’t go overboard eating dates, they may seem like a healthy food, and indeed they do contain a lot of fibre. However they contain quite a lot of natural sugar. There is some debate about whether natural sugar is better for you than processed sugar. Regardless of where you get your sugar from, you should keep an eye on the amount you are eating. As the saying goes ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’.

Dates are used in both sweet and savoury dishes. Sweet ideas include date and walnut cake, date slice, sticky toffee pudding and apple and date crumble. This Chicken and Date One-Pot is gorgeous. During cooking the dates disintegrate into small flakes, and give the dish a lovely naturally sweet flavour. By naturally sweet, I mean sweet, but it does not taste like you have spooned loads of sugar into it.

Dark Chocolate

I have yet to find someone who does not like chocolate! Here in the UK the average person gets through 24.7 lb every year. Quite an eye watering statistic, even more so as our neighbours in Germany eat 14.7 lb, and Spain a tiny 3.5 lb.

There are 3 main types of chocolate, dark, milk and white. Chocolate contains three main ingredients, cocoa solids, fat and sugar. The proportion of cocoa solids in a chocolate, determines the type of chocolate it is. Dark chocolate contains the highest level of cocoa solids, from 65% of the total product up to 99%, milk chocolate contains about 20-25%. White chocolate is not strictly speaking chocolate as it does not contain any cocoa solids, and is made up of cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids.

Dark Chocolate

Milk chocolate is the most commonly consumed, however we should be eating more dark chocolate as it contains the least amount of added sugar. Its high cocoa content means it can have bitter or really strong chocolate flavour. Due to this intense flavour and high cocoa low sugar content, we are not tempted to eat more like you are with milk or white chocolate. If you have not tried dark chocolate before, give it a go. Start of buying chocolate at 65%, and work your way up. If you are using milk chocolate in a desert or as part of an icing for a cake, substitute some of the milk chocolate for dark chocolate. See if you or any one else notices a difference.

Fun Facts

  • very few people are allergic to dates
  • date palm seeds can lay dormant for decades, only stimulated when there is the correct light and conditions.
Dark Chocolate
  • cocoa butters contained in chocolate have a melting point of just below human body temperature. This is why chocolate melts so beautifully in the mouth.
  • February 1st is ‘National Dark Chocolate Day’