Sunday, April 12th, 2015
There’s just something about crumble. Perhaps it’s because I live abroad now, and home comforts are few and far between (I found Heinz beans last week and bought four tins!) but I find myself hankering after the most comforting foods from childhood.
I was cleaning out the files on my laptop the other day and came across the photos of this rhubarb crumble that I made last summer, when I was still living in the rural UK. Struck by a sudden wave of nostalgia I was suddenly racing through memories of being six years old and taking a little tupperware of leftover crumble and custard to school on Monday.
Unable to resist until lunchtime, during morning break I would grab the little pot from my coat pocket and, while the other children were racing around playing kiss chase and stuck in the mud, I would dig in with sticky fingers. Even now, sat typing at my desk, I can taste the tartness of the cold compote of fruit mingling with the sweetness and oats of the crumble topping. Unlike pizza, crumble is always twice as good cold, isn’t it?
Crumble isn’t just an easy, fast, filling and nutritious pudding. It’s the taste of childhood. Nothing will send me into a fit of nostalgia more than the heady smell of horses; the perfume of a leather shop; a whiff of boot polish; or crumble. It is the taste of family and friends coming together. The very thought of a crumble conjures feelings of warmth and love.
It doesn’t matter what the season is, if there are apples on the trees or raspberries on bushes, you can make a crumble. Passion fruit in spring; berries in summer; plums in autumn; and pear in winter. There is always something around you can use in a crumble, that’s their beauty. Comforting pudding is always in season.
Once you have your fruit all you need add is the comforting, wholesome, slightly stodgy (isn’t that what makes it all the more comforting?) topping. This is where, I’ll admit, I depart from what my mum made on Sundays. I add a handful of oats, something I originally did just so that I could call this an ‘original recipe’ in my GCSE Food Technology class and save myself potentially minutes of homework. It turned out to be such a success that I’ve added a handful of oats to every crumble I’ve made since.
Another seconds saving adjustment made for class purposes was substituting caster sugar for soft dark brown sugar to fulfil the requirement that we made the pudding ‘healthier.’ In my, humble, opinion this was a waste of time. ‘Pudding is pudding, leave it be!’ cried 15 year old me. Alas, the OCR exam board and the Department of Health probably disagreed. Though I still vehemently disagree with the idea of messing with puddings to make them a ‘healthy option’* (a rant which could, and probably will, make up another whole post) unless you have a serious health problem which a doctor has told you needs a modified diet, I now always use soft, dark brown sugar because it tastes about a million times more grown up.
There are at least another 5000 words I could write about the manna from heaven that is crumble, but I feel like almost 600 words is probably enough.
So, here is my family’s, ever so slightly adapted, recipe for Sunday afternoon joy.
Crumble is all about ratios, it’s not a lie when I say that this is how I revised fractions when I still had to study maths at school! I made enough for four people here, using the little glass pots that Gu puddings come in, so sizing the recipe up or down (ha) should be relatively easy. If you don’t have a mild addiction to Gu chocolate puddings then a mediumish sized pie tin (without a loose bottom) will do just as well.
To make your fruit base you can either make a compote, which is ideal for rhubarb and other fruits which are unlikely to soften when the crumble is in the oven, or you can just chop them and sprinkle with a little bit of sugar. Go with about a handful of fruit per person.
If you aren’t making a compote preheat your oven to 200c. If you are making a compote, take your fruit and cut it into chunks. Then pop it in a sauce pan over a low heat with sprinkling of water and a pinch of sugar. You’ll need to keep half an eye on it, but let is simmer for about 10-20 minutes, giving the occasional stir. Once done, pop into your pot(s) and put to one side and preheat your oven (200c.)
To make enough topping for 4 people, you need:
150g plain flour
50-75g soft, dark brown sugar
A handful of oats
Now, all you have to do is rub the butter and flour together until it looks like bread crumbs. A food processor can do this in about 30 seconds flat, but it isn’t nearly as relaxing as the soothing, repetitive motions that come with 5 minutes spent rubbing fat into flour.
Next, stir in your oats and sugar. Here you could add some chopped up almonds, or any nuts really though almonds are the only ones which won’t send me into an allergic reaction.
Sprinkle a little sugar or cinnamon onto your compote and spoon on your topping.
Pop your crumble(s) in the oven for 20-40minutes, this depends on how big they are. Once the topping in golden brown serve with pouring cream (grown ups) or custard (grown ups who are pretending not to be.)
*The term ‘healthy option’ sets my teeth on edge and raises my hackles. To me it reeks of condescension and smug, self righteous saintliness, and the exclusion of wonderful, nutritious, and, most importantly, tasty foods which can and should form a part of a balanced diet where everything is in moderation.