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December 03, 2016
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A dessert by any other name...

TRR photos by Amanda Reed

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.

Brown Betty
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.