A dessert by any other name...
The choices for what to do with summer berries are endless. How to choose? Having some definitions might help to get you started. Most (though not all) of these are baked desserts. A number of them are quite old fashioned, but they are so simple that you might consider giving one or two a try.
Cobblers and Crumbles
A cobbler starts with fruit on the bottom that is topped by a crust, usually a baking-powder biscuit dough dropped in clumps; this gives it a “cobbled” appearance when baked. Sometimes a cobbler has a batter or piecrust top. The British call a cobbler a crumble; it originated during World War II food rationing. The topping is made of butter, flour, brown sugar and sometimes oats, mixed together so that it resembles breadcrumbs. Care must be taken to balance the correct amount of crumble with the fruit or else the juicy fruit filling may seep through and spoil the crust. Crumble was traditionally served with custard, but today it is generally served with ice cream.
A pandowdy features a piecrust topping, which is baked until the crust starts to brown. Then, the pastry is broken or cut up (“dowdied”) and pressed back into the fruit, and the dish is returned to the oven to finish baking.
This truly American dessert dates to the mid-19th century. Traditionally, the fruit was sweetened with molasses or maple syrup.
Grunt or Slump
A grunt or a slump resembles a cobbler, but it is steamed on top of the stove (often in a cast-iron skillet) instead of being baked. The finished dessert resembles dumplings because the “drop biscuits” do not brown like an oven-baked cobbler. Supposedly, the “grunt” is the sound the fruit makes as it stews.
A crisp is a casual, baked fruit dessert where the fruit is topped with a “rubbed” mixture of softened (not melted) butter, sugar, flour and sometimes nuts. Alternatives to flour include breadcrumbs, cookie crumbs, graham cracker crumbs, stale cake crumbs or even corn flakes. This is a modern dessert; the earliest reference to apple crisp in print occurs in 1924.
A Brown Betty is a traditional American dessert made from fruit and sweetened crumbs. It consists of a baked fruit pudding, where buttered breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs are layered in with sweetened, spiced fruit, with the top layer ending with crumbs. It is usually served with a lemon sauce or whipped cream. The dish was first mentioned in print in 1864. Apple Brown Betty was one of the favorite desserts of Ronald and Nancy Reagan in the White House.
A buckle inverts everything by having a rich yellow cake batter on the bottom and the fruit on top. As it bakes, the fruit sinks to the bottom and the cake rises around the fruit, causing it to “buckle.”
Clafouti is a custard-like French dessert traditionally made with tart cherries, though other fruits can be used, such as berries, plums or apples. A thick batter, similar to a pancake batter, is poured over the cherries and baked.
Summer fruit pudding is a British dessert made with sliced white bread (it helps if the bread is somewhat stale) and stewed fruit with its juice. Left to soak overnight, this dessert is unmolded by turning out onto a plate. The dessert was popular in the late 19th to the early 20th century.
Trifle is dessert dish made by alternating layers of thick custard, fruit, sponge cake, fruit juice or jelly and whipped cream. The earliest known reference was published in 1596; an egg-based custard was introduced 60 years later.
(Serves 4 to 6)
1 pound cherries, whole (traditionally, these do not have to be pitted)
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
A pinch of salt
4 eggs + 2 yolks
2½ cups milk
2 Tbsp brandy (optional)
Butter a baking dish and scatter cherries in the dish. Mix the remaining ingredients (as for pancakes—it will be a thin batter) with flour, sugar, salt, eggs, extra yolks and milk. Strain the batter over the cherries and leave to sit for 30 minutes. Bake at 375º F .for 40 to 45 minutes or until the pudding is puffed and brown. Let it cool until just warm; it will sink slightly. Sprinkle with brandy if you desire, and then with confectioners’ sugar. Serve.
Blackberry Brown Betty
6 cups washed fresh blackberries
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Grated rind and juice of 1/2 large lemon
2 heaping cups of coarse, fresh breadcrumbs
1/3 cup butter, melted
Butter a deep 7- by 9-inch oven dish. Preheat oven to 350º F. Mix berries, brown sugar, cinnamon, lemon rind and juice. Pour half the berries into the prepared dish. Toss bread crumbs with melted butter and spread half over the berries. Top with the rest of the berries and then with the rest of the breadcrumbs. Bake 30 minutes, then cover lightly with foil and bake an additional 15 minutes until berries bubble. Serve warm with cream or ice cream.