Crumble: One of the great British Puddings
I associate crumble with comfort food, Sunday lunches, and strangely school lunches. It was one of the few good things to eat. In the eyes of the British the crumble is one of the great British puddings. Little did I know it is actually an American invention. The first recipe came from the Encyclopedia of Modern Cooking by written by Meta Given in 1947. The British quickly adopted the crumble and made it our own. By the 1950’s crumble made its way into the British psyche as a comforting pudding. It features frequently in Jennie Hawthorne’s wonderfully titled book The Mystery of the Blue Tomatoes. A type of Enid Blyton post war England children’s story. Crumbles in the U.S.A. are also known as crisps or crunches i.e. apple crisp is the same thing as apple crumble.
The popularity of the fruit crumble is probably due to the fact that, apart from being comforting and delicious, it is quick and very easy to make. It isn’t as intimidating as making pastry for a pie and it doesn’t take hours to steam like some traditional puddings. It is a rough dish that can be thrown together with little skill, or even scales for that matter. It is now one of the great British puddings that best shows off our homegrown fruits – apples, pears, rhubarb, plums, and all those lovely berries.
Despite crumble being such an easy pudding to make, to make a good one I reckon you need just the right proportion of fruit to crumble topping and you need a really crusty crunchy top.
Here is the simple formula for making a fruit crumble so your recipe can be adapted to whatever amount of fruit you have. This recipe is for rhubarb and redcurrant crumble. Redcurrants are cheap and plentiful right now and a kind neighbour gave me some of her overgrowing rhubarb supply. The nice thing about crumble is that if you can put almost any British fruit into it. When plums are in season crack open the stone and if the kernel inside the stone has an almond taste, being a relative and all. This can be mixed through the crumble topping. Not all the plum kernels have this strong taste. Some spices are always good too – cinnamon with apple or pear, powdered ginger with rhubarb.
The crust of this crumble is made in part with medium ground oatmeal – which adds a beautiful crunch. The quantities of crumble topping you make depend on the amount of fruit you have. For every 500g fruit I use 200g flour. The ratio for the crumble topping is easy to remember – for every 2 parts of flour you use 1 part sugar and 1 part butter. The amount of sugar you add to the fruit depends on your taste. 100g of sugar per 500g fruit is usually a good ratio. You want a little bit of sharpness.
200g plain flour
100g medium oatmeal
100g cold unsalted butter
100g demerara sugar (or even granulated, coarse sugar is best for the crunch)
For the Fruit
500g fruit (250g rhubarb cut into short logs, 250g redcurrants pulled from their stalks)
100g castor sugar
Work the flour and oatmeal in a bowl with the butter to form a rough crumb mixture. Stir in the sugar. Cut up your choice of fruit and transfer it to your baking dish. Sprinkle over the sugar evenly. Top with the crumble mixture. You can sprinkle it with more sugar if you want a sugary topping. Bake in a 180˚C oven for 30 – 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and crunchy and the fruit is bubbling up around the sides.