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SOS October 2011: Autumn Fruit Crumble

I grew up in a home where my two sisters and I learned to bake before our birthdays hit the double digits. Before we learned to read, before we wore a training bra, before we could drive a car, we were baking.  As young as four or five, we’d be enlisted to help stir a cake batter,  knead a streusel dough or lick the beaters from my mom’s “famous” chiffon cake.  So I was pretty stoked when I rented my first apartment at age twenty and finally had my own kitchen, which meant I could bake to my heart’s content.

And yet, bizarrely, the first foodstuff I prepared in the new, steamer trunk-sized kitchen, was not a cake.  Nor was it cookies, brownies, a pie, a soufflé–or any other baked good.  No, the first dish I cooked up in the miniature kitchen was split pea soup with ham.

Split pea soup with–what?!?!

I know.  It seems weird to me, too.  You see, my dad (who owned a butcher shop at the time) wanted to give me something pragmatic as a housewarming gift.  So he gave me a cooked ham.  Was it because my boyfriend back then–for whom I was itching to cook–loved ham? (Unlikely, since my dad disapproved of said bf).  Was it because the meat was pre-cooked, and, therefore, could survive the trip between Montreal and Windsor, where I returned after my long weekend at home?  (Again, probably not.  My parents had sent along much more perishable items, such as fresh cheeses or homemade chocolate chip cookies, before that). Was it because I’d been home for Easter Weekend, and my dad’s butcher shop was burdened with an abundance of unsold ham left over after the holiday, which he chose to pawn off on  save from the garbage bin  generously bestow upon me?  (Bingo).

And so, I dutifully cooked the pea soup, took one taste and determined that I abhorred it, then donated the entire batch to my boyfriend and his housemates. (It was a perfectly lovely ham and pea soup, I’m sure, but even back then I wasn’t exactly fussy on meat).

I then decided I’d turn to what I knew best–baking!  In the first week alone, I’d already mixed up all my favorites: brownies (dense, moist, fudgy, with whole squares of Caramilk chocolate bars embedded within); my mom’s recipe for “Surprise Crackles” cookies (also known as “Chocolate Crinkles“–a rich, melty, puffed chocolate cookie coated in powdered sugar, which “crackles” into mosaic patterns as they bake); Tunnel of Fudge cake (a precursor to chocolate lava cake and a recipe I’d copied down during a summer at my cousin’s in Boston); the Nurse’s recipe for Nanaimo Bars (chewy coconut and chocolate bars); and the ubiquitous chocolate chip cookies, which I had first learned to make alongside my dad’s Great Aunt Yetta.

And then, semi-comatose from my cacao overdose, I began to look further afield than chocolate.

One of my classmates at the time, a pseudo-hippie with a health foodie streak (as I recall she introduced me to true bran muffins, the first time I’d had them made with actual wheat bran rather than All-Bran cereal) brought over a pan of apple crisp/crumble.  For someone whose previous reaction to apple desserts had been tepid at best, I found that crumble to be a revelation. Who knew that when you combined apples with sweet, cinnamony, oatmeal-and-butter topping that they’d be transformed into something ethereal?

I must admit that I went on a bit of an apple crumble binge (do we detect a pattern here?).  I tried mixing apples with raisins for more sweetness and textural variety (not a fave); using several different types of apples in one crisp (lovely); and experimenting with various proportions of apple-to-crisp-topping (I definitely preferred a heavier topping-to-apple ratio).

What I loved about the recipe was that you didn’t really need a recipe: just grate up some apples, add cinnamon and sugar, then pinch together your flour,sugar and butter, add oats and cinnamon to taste, sprinkle, bake, and eat.  I could mix it up, bake it and have sugary juices trailing down my chin all within 40 minutes.  And best of all, it made a delicious cold breakfast the next morning. Much more forgiving than cakes or cookies, crumble could be infinitely altered and the proportions changed without too much negative impact.

This particular version goes beyond apple alone, to combine our first fruit with pear and cranberries, our SOS Kitchen Challenge ingredient this month. The trio works particularly well together, the solid, robust apple providing structure to the meltingly soft pear and the sometimes too-tart cranberry. Yet mixed together, they create a beautiful synergy. The crumble topping itself is also grain-free, but believe me, you won’t miss the oats.  Once baked, it browns and its sweetness deepens to a perfectly crisp and crumbly topping.  We loved this dessert.  Next time, I’d heed the HH’s suggestion and top it with some coconut whipped cream as well.  Divine!

I’ve had my own kitchen for quite some time by now, and it’s true, the novelty has worn off. But baking? Well, that never gets old.

Last Year at this Time: Vegan Tortière (Meat Pie) (gluten free; ACD Stage 2 and beyond)

Two Years Ago: Faux Chocolate (gluten free; ACD all stages)

Three Years Ago: Balti Tofu and Chickpeas in a Thick, Creamy Coconut Sauce (gluten free; ACD, all stages)

© Ricki Heller, Diet, Dessert and Dogs

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