My friend Betty decided to bake dessert for her family. She pondered over not what they wanted, but what she had on hand.
Her countenance was about to crumble when she discovered some crisp apples in the refrigerator. She had flour, brown sugar, and butter, but she questioned her baking skills when it came to pies as a crispy yet flaky crust was essential. All thoughts of pie buckled as she slumped to the table in despair. She really didn’t have baking skills. But still … dessert was a must for this bird’s nest of hungry kids.
She ended up cobbling together a deep dish dessert of enormous and amazingly tasty proportions. Soft, tender fruit bathed in a brown, sugary, buttery syrup under a layer of golden-brown biscuit, over which was a shiny glaze of sugar and cinnamon.
If you are still wondering what kind of desserts we’re highlighting, “cobbler,” “crisp,” “crumble,” “slump,” and “bird’s nest” were hints that deep dish fruit and biscuit or oat toppings are in season! As October cool evenings, cold mornings, and warm afternoons work their way into our lives, fruits of all sorts can be highlighted in these old-fashioned dishes. Cobbler is the basic word usually used for these desserts, but upon research, some rather odd names present themselves.
Betty, or Brown Betty, uses fruit — usually apples baked in layers of buttered bread crumbs. Later, graham cracker crumbs were introduced. The term “Betty” relating to the dessert had its beginning as far back as 1864.
Crisps and crumbles are fruit mixtures baked with a crumb topping consisting of nuts, bread crumbs, oats, or crushed cookies mixed with butter and spices. “Crumble” is the English version of North America’s “crisp.”
Buckle is generally associated with blueberries. A cake batter is poured into a deep dish. Berries can be blended into the batter or scattered on top to sink into the batter during baking. The topping is a streusel mixture which, when all is baked together, looks like the dish rose and then buckled.
Pandowdy is associated with apples. Sliced fruit is sweetened with brown sugar or molasses. Biscuit dough is baked on top, only to be broken up and pushed into the fruit during baking. “Dowdy” has the meaning of not neat or tidy. The top of pandowdies have that frumpy, something-went-wrong look about them. Their taste is just the opposite, as the broken biscuit soaks up the sugary-sweet apple juice. They can be some of the best autumn baking adventures.
Grunts and slumps are usually cooked on top of the stove. Fruits are stewed with spices, then biscuit or dumpling dough is spooned on top. The pan is covered, heat reduced to a simmer, and the resulting dumplings are steamed much like chicken and dumplings. “Grunt” refers to the faint bubbling sound of the fruit cooking around the mounds of dough. “Slump” may refer to the fact that, if heavy enough, the dough will slump or sink into the fruit.
Probably the most intriguing name is found only in North Carolina. Sonker is the Appalachian version of cobbler. Besides the popular peach, strawberry, and cherry sonkers, there is a sweet potato version. There is an annual Sonker Festival, held the first Saturday of October in Lowgap, North Carolina, which the Surry County Historical Society sponsors. All proceeds from the day-long event benefit the preservation of the Edwards-Franklin House, a two-hundred-year-old building with significant historical value to the area.
Whatever you want to call your fruit and crust concoction, remember Betty. She had ingredients, she had determination. She had family waiting for a sweet ending to their day. She baked. It was good.
For the fruit
• 4 cups fresh or frozen blackberries
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 cup water
• 3 tablespoons quick cooking tapioca
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
For the dumplings
• 2 cups self-rising flour
• 3 tablespoons sugar
• 1 egg beaten
• 3 tablespoons melted butter
• 2/3 cup buttermilk or milk
1. Place berries, sugar, water, tapioca, and cinnamon in large Dutch oven kettle with a tight fitting lid. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to simmer.
2. In a mixing bowl, stir together the dumpling ingredients just until a batter forms. Drop the batter by large spoonfuls onto cooking fruit.
3. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes, then cover pot and cook for another 10 minutes. Dumplings are done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
4. Serve warm with cream, ice cream if desired.
• 1 can (29 oz.) peaches, drained
• 2/3 cup brown sugar
• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/2 cup quick or old-fashioned oats
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/3 cup butter
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Butter an 8×8 inch baking pan. Arrange drained peaches over bottom of pan.
3. In a mixing bowl, using a fork, mix the rest of the ingredients together until crumbly. Sprinkle over peaches.
4. Bake until hot and bubbly, until the topping is a golden brown — about 30 minutes.
Other fruits may be used, canned or frozen. If using a Pyrex (glass) dish, reduce oven temp to 350 degrees F. Do not use instant oatmeal, as the topping will be mushy.
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