Damsons and a crumble cake

I had never eaten a damson in my life before this year. The past month or so, I’ve made up for lost time – it’s literally been ‘damsons ahoy’ since we picked a whole bunch of these inky blue-skinned plums on our recent holiday in the Cotswolds. If ‘purple’ had a flavour, cooked damsons would be it. When raw, they taste like a regular sweet plum, but when cooked, they’re much more intense – deep and sweet, with a touch of sourness and a hint of alcoholic cough mixture hidden in the mix…


Since neither my husband or I ever remember to eat jam (it’s not that we don’t like it, we just can’t be bothered, and I still have a jar of marmalade on the go from 2 years ago) we thought we’d make a whole stash of damson compote adding a dash of water and a scant scattering of sugar to the plums,  them simmering them for 10 minutes. Damsons are small plums with fiddly stones, no bigger than a large fat grape, and some people say not to bother removing the stones when you cook with them, but the idea of spitting out stones as you chomp through a crumble seems mental, so we thought we’d press the cooked plums through a sieve:



What you end up with is a perfect puree that is sensational stirred through thick Greek yoghurt to make a fool, or dolloped into a crumble mixture. My mate C said she’d put it on her porridge. Check the colour – it’s so rich and vivid! Definitely don’t wear your best pastel slacks or shirt when making or eating this.

I have a whole batch of compote frozen in ziploc freezer bags, and I can feel a whole bunch of crumbles and pies coming on…

One afternoon, I thought I’d make the St John’s Rhubarb Crumble Cake, but use damsons instead. It was a very relaxing process, and the ensuing cake made a lot of people smile. I mean, who wouldn’t smile at a cake with a crunchy crumble topping and a hidden fruit centre? Pure brilliant-ness.

St John’s Crumble Cake, adapted with damsons:


Serve six to eight

You will need

Three handfuls of damsons
50g caster sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange

Cake mix:
125g organic salted butter
125g caster sugar
3 large organic eggs, lightly beaten
160g self-raising organic flour, sifted
50ml full-fat milk

Crumble mix:

125g plain flour
95g organic salted butter, cut into small cubes
60g Demerara sugar
30g ground almonds
30g flaked almonds

First stone the damsons. It’s fiddly but essential. Mix them with the sugars and orange zest and set aside in a bowl for 30 minutes.

For the cake mix, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Gradually add the beaten eggs, bit by bit to prevent curdling. Then fold in the sifted flour and last of all mix in the milk. Put to one side.

For the crumble mix, put the flour and butter into a food processor, blitz until everything resembles large breadcrumbs, then briefly mix in the ground almonds, sugar and flaked almonds.


Butter a deep 20cm springform cake tin and line the base and sides with baking parchment. Spread the cake mix evenly over the base of the tin, then place the damsons on top:


Sprinkle the crumble mix over the damsons. Place in an oven preheated to 180C and bake for about 1 1/2 hours, covering the top loosely with foil if it gets too dark. The cake is ready when a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Note: don’t mistake the cooked gooey Damsons for uncooked cake mixture – I nearly overdid this cake because I thought it hadn’t baked all the way through.

Serve warm, with custard or extra thick Jersey cream.



I ate three slices of this cake in quick succession. Easy for a greedy mare!



  1. Oh Anne. Oh my. Lovely looking things! I just so happen to have about a kilo of damsons in the freezer…


  2. This looks great. I had so many damsons I didn't know what to do with this year. I'm putting this idea aside to have a go at with next years crop. I just did Jam http://jamtartsandgingerbreadmen.blogspot.com/2010/09/damson-jam.html which was lovely, but like you said a bit boring.


  3. Hey Samantha, I loved your phrase about the damson tree 'taunting you' from the bottom of the garden – and how nice that you let people come and pick them for free!


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