Kitchen Call: Cobblers, crisps and crumbles
In the states that cling to the southernmost Canada, spring is a late-bloomer. A few brave crocuses jab their way through hard, cracked earth or mud-colored snow drifts, but most northerners wind scarves and pull on mittens until mid-April. At home, something baking in the oven is most welcome. Sweet aromas from rustic pottery bring smiles that only carbs seasoned with fruit can provide.
There’s a whole spectrum of homely recipes that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers baked. Cobblers and crisps and crumbles have cycled through the generations, kept as carefully as jewels in dented recipe boxes or under the covers of stained notebooks. Some recipes haven’t seen the inside of an oven in over a century. Others, migrating from Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, reached the opposite coast, around Seattle. Still others stopped midway on the trip at farmhouses in the American heartland where thrifty, old-fashioned cooking never lost its style.
To create these, seasonal fruits past their peak are covered with the last few crumbs of bread, crackers, cake, or cookies, and moistened with melted butter. Some cooks have been known to throw together a handful of nuts and oats, or stir flour and other ingredients to form biscuit dough. Blanket the fruit with any of these goodies, then slide into a hot oven, and watch the top turn golden. Sometimes it bubbles; other times it just browns. In one case, the batter and fruit stir together into a delicious, hot mess. The fruits are interchangeable, even though each recipe has its own special characteristics.
Find a baking dish large enough so that the contents last a few days. And here they are, alphabetized.
BETTY: Sometimes called a “brown betty,” the fruit is topped with buttered bread, crackers, cake or cookie crumbs mixed with flour, sugar and butter before baking. Traditionally done with apples, it takes well to pears and peaches, too.
BUCKLE: Berries are folded into a basic yellow cake batter, then poured into a greased pan and baked. Don’t worry about what kind of berries: Use whatever is on hand, and don’t be afraid to mix them. The center might fall or “buckle” as it cools. Serve, warm and cut in squares. And a little whipped cream melting over the dessert never hurts.
COBBLER: Start with a biscuit crust broken into pieces. Each piece is dropped, separately, leaving spaces in between, onto the layer of fruit or berries or mixture of both in the bottom of the pan. The whole thing bakes up to look so pretty with the fruit or berries peeking out between the “cobblestones.”
CRISP OR CRUMBLE: The most familiar of these humble desserts, a layering of fruit is baked under a mixture of nuts, oats, sugar, flour, butter or crumbs that bakes into a crunchy topping.
GRUNT OR SLUMP: If you can make a cobbler, you can make this. Instead of plopping separate cobblestones on top of the fruit, spread the biscuit dough over the entire fruit layer. As it bakes, the fruit makes “grunting” sound under the topping and “slumps” in the center as the fruit softens and cools.
PANDOWDY: Just like the grunt or slump, the fruit layer is topped with dough and baked. Still hot from the oven, the cook stirs it the whole thing together with a spoon, to “dowdy up” (definitely an old-fashioned expression) the pan.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
Thaw the raspberries before starting this recipe. At one point, out of desperation, I used canned peach slices because I could not find decent berries. It turned out great. (Hint: Get peaches packed in juice, not syrup, and drain them.)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small bits
3 cups fresh (or frozen) raspberries
3 ripe pears, e.g. Bosc, Bartlett, peeled, halved, cored, chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water to cover, 30 minutes, and drained
1/2 cup granulated sugar
grated zest of 1 orange, about 2 teaspoons
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 375. Butter 2-quart baking dish.
2. Toss together berries, pears, drained raisins, granulated sugar, orange zest and vanilla. Spoon into the bottom of the baking dish.
3. Process together the oats, brown sugar, nuts, flour, cinnamon and salt until combined. Add butter; pulse until mixture starts to hold together. Spoon evenly over the fruit mixture, pressing down lightly.
4. Bake until the fruit bubbles and the top is golden brown, about 50 minutes. Serve warm.
6 cups peeled, chopped tart apples
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup apple flavored liqueur (optional)
2 cups unbleached flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk lightly beaten
2 tablespoon granulated sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Preheat the oven to 375. Butter a 3-quart baking dish getting into the corners.
2. Toss together apples and lemon juice in a bowl. Stir in brown sugar, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, lemon zest, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins and apricots, liqueur, if using, 1/4 cup flour and cornstarch.
3. Combine remaining sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Blend in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Pour in the beaten eggs and mix until everything just holds together in a lumpy dough. Spoon the dough over the fruit, leaving small spaces between each, like a cobblestone street. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar.
4. Bake, 45 to 50 minutes, until golden and juices bubble between the “cobblestones.” Serve warm.
Makes about 1-1/4 cups
A perfect topping for any of these old-fashioned dishes, this can be whipped up a day ahead and kept, covered in plastic, in the refrigerator.
1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons natural maple syrup
Whip cream to barely soft peaks. Continue whipping while slowly drizzling in maple syrup until you like the consistency. Do not overbeat.
Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@aol.com. Read Linda’s blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.