This old-fashioned Damson Plum Pie, also called Damson Pie or Caramel Pie, is a classic Virginia dessert that's been loved for generations. The simple custard filling comes together in just minutes, thanks to a flavorful combination of damson plum preserves, brown sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla extract. The vintage treat tastes a lot like a sweet-tart chess pie, and it's perfect when served with a dollop of whipped cream!
A few of my local friends were recently discussing the damson plum pie recipes that their great grandmothers served when the fruit ripened each season. Apparently every farmhouse kitchen, local boarding house, or cozy café had its own version of a Damson Pie, also called a Caramel Pie. You can find these recipes in any of the little cookbooks that the churches publish as fundraisers, and they're all very similar: a flaky, buttery pie crust filled with a custard made from eggs, brown sugar, butter, vanilla extract and damson plum preserves.
Taste and Texture
Damsons are much smaller than other plums, and have a stronger, more tart flavor than their larger counterparts. As a result, damson plums are best suited for making preserves and baking, rather than eating straight from the tree. By stirring damson preserves into this pie filling, you get a custard with a lovely sweet-tart flavor. The butter, brown sugar, and vanilla also yield a warm, rich, caramel taste (probably why the dessert is sometimes called Caramel Pie). The texture is similar to a chess pie, buttermilk pie, or pumpkin pie -- smooth and creamy.
Whether you're hosting a late-summer picnic, attending a church social, or looking for a Thanksgiving pie that doesn't include pecans or pumpkins, then you've come to the right place. No matter the season, no matter the occasion, a Southern damson plum pie is always well received!
Damson Pie Crust
Damson plum pies have a single pastry crust. You do not need to bake the crust before adding the filling. Instead, the crust bakes right along with the filling in the oven. You can use my favorite all-butter pie crust, another homemade pie crust that you love, or a shortcut store-bought pie crust.
While the all-butter homemade crust is flakier and has a richer flavor, the store-bought version is also a perfectly suitable option. I like the box of Pillsbury crust, which you can find in the refrigerated section of most grocery stores.
I've included the instructions below for the optional pastry leaves, which just add a lovely fall garnish to the pie. You'll need an extra pie crust for this step, and you can either cut out the leaves by hand or use these leaf-shaped pie cutters.
Ingredients for Old-Fashioned Damson Caramel Pie
This is a quick overview of the ingredients that you'll need for Damson pie. As always, specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.
- Unbaked pie crust: use my favorite homemade recipe, or try a shortcut with Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust dough.
- Eggs: give the filling structure.
- Light brown sugar: sweetens the pie and gives it that subtle caramel flavor.
- Damson plum preserves: make your own preserves from scratch, or purchase of jar of Damson preserves.
- Butter: I like salted butter for flavor.
- All-purpose flour: just a touch to thicken the filling.
- Vanilla extract: for warm flavor.
- Salt: balances the sweetness in the pie.
How to Make Damson Plum Pie
This simple pie comes together very easily -- the key is just planning ahead and patience. It's best when prepped early in the day so that it has plenty of time to set-up and cool. Thanks to my friend Mollie and her mom for sharing their jam and pie recipes with all of us!
- Roll out the pie crust and place in a pie plate.
- Whisk together the filling.
- Pour the filling into the unbaked crust.
- Bake the pie in a 350°F oven for about 45 minutes.
- Cool completely before slicing and serving.
How to Tell if the Pie is Done
The pie is done when the filling is mostly set. The top will look crisp, but when you gently shake the pie it will still jiggle a little in the center. The plum pie will continue to firm up and set as it cools.
Allow the pie to cool to room temperature, then cover loosely with foil. The pie will keep on the counter at room temperature for 1-2 days, but it's best if stored in the refrigerator. The refrigerator keeps it firm and fresh for 3-4 days.
Allow the pie to cool completely, then wrap tightly and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
Once the pie is completely cool, slice and serve it chilled or at room temperature. Add a dollop of whipped cream on top to perfectly cut the sweetness of the pie. A scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dusting of powdered sugar are also nice touches.
- Use homemade damson preserves if you have the fresh fruit available, or purchase a jar of preserves for a quick shortcut.
- For another shortcut, use an unbaked store-bought pie crust instead of the homemade crust. I prefer the box of Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust.
- Deep Dish: this recipe calls for a regular 9-inch pie plate and crust. The filling is so rich and decadent, you really don't need a thick slice. That said, you can use a deep-dish pie crust or pie plate if that's what you have available. The filling just might not come all of the way up to the top.
- Pastry Leaf Garnish: I've included the instructions for the optional pastry leaf garnish below. It adds a beautiful fall touch! You'll need an extra pie crust for the leaves, so keep that in mind if you'd like to include them.
Tips for the Best Damson Plum Pie Recipe
- Make sure that the melted butter is cooled slightly before adding it to the filling -- or you might end up with scrambled eggs!
- Extreme temperature changes can cause the pie filling to crack on top, so allow the pie to cool gradually at room temperature. Do not place a hot pie in a cold refrigerator.
- Allow plenty of time for the pie to chill. It will continue to firm up and set as it rests, so it's best to make this pie early in the day (or the day before you plan to enjoy it). If you try to slice the pie while it's still hot, the filling may be runny.
- Before serving, allow a refrigerated pie to come to room temperature on the counter for about 30 minutes.
- Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a dusting of powdered sugar.
More Old-Fashioned Pie Recipes to Try
- Buttermilk Pie
- Dutch Apple Pie
- Chocolate Chess Pie
- Mom's Easy Apple Pie
- Easy Pecan Pie
- Old-Fashioned Strawberry Pie
Damson Plum Pie
- 1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust (use a store-bought Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust or find my favorite homemade pie crust recipe here)
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- ¾ cup packed light brown sugar
- ¾ cup damson plum preserves (store-bought or homemade)
- 3 tablespoons salted butter, melted and slightly cooled
- 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Optional, for serving: whipped cream
ROLL OUT THE CRUST:
- If the pie dough is really cold and firm, let it rest on the counter for about 10-15 minutes before rolling.
- On a floured work surface, roll out the dough. Turn the dough about a quarter turn after every few rolls until you have a circle that measures 12 inches in diameter. Carefully transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate. Tuck the excess dough under the edges, and then use a fork or your fingers to crimp or flute. Cover with plastic wrap and place the crust in the refrigerator to chill while you preheat the oven and make the filling.
MAKE THE FILLING:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and brown sugar until smooth. Add the preserves, melted butter, flour, vanilla extract and salt; stir until completely combined.
- Pour the filling into the pie crust.
BAKE THE PIE:
- Bake in the 350°F oven for about 45 minutes, or until mostly set – there will still be a little bit of jiggle in the center when you shake the pie. Allow the pie to cool completely before slicing (it will continue to set as it cools). If the pie is still a bit too soft after cooling, chill it in the refrigerator for a few hours to firm it up.
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