Fruits of the forage
This crumble should really be called ‘fruits of the forage’ because it exemplifies all that is best about this time of year when windfall apples and pears are there for the gathering, to be used in recipes where a perfect outwards appearance is not required.
This year, the hedgerows are heavy with nuts, fruits, berries and all sorts of edible leaves. It’s been a good Autumn so far. I used Bramleys here and they work beautifully for two main reasons: their higher acid and lower sugar content means they retain their tangy apple flavour when cooked and their texture becomes fluffy and light, contrasting well with the crunchy topping. I have also used Hereford and Egremont russet apples with their nutty pear-like flavour and the Pitmaston Pineapple adds a honied note if you can find this rarer variety. The pears are Red Williams (the ones with the red skin and soft, sweet flesh) although Comice, Conference and Rocha all cook down well and even the hardest of supermarket pears will yield to the heat of the oven, becoming mellow and flavoursome in conjunction with brown sugar and goodly amounts of butter. Do use whatever fruit you have at hand (I wouldn’t sniff at adding a handful of blackberries) for this is what good cooking is about – improvisation and adaptability as opposed to a nervous adherence to a set of instructions.
The topping is a classic rubbed-in butter, flour and sugar mixture with nuts and flakes of rye and spelt stirred in. I like to use half soft brown sugar and half demerara because of the latters crunch and the warm toffee-notes of the former. Rye flakes seem to be everywhere at the moment – as championed by food writers – but they are not a new ingredient by any stretch of the imagination: health food stores stock both rye and spelt but if you can’t find them, a handful of good quality granola or muesli will be a more than adequate substitute. If you’re like me, you’ll have a few half-used boxes in the larder.
The cobnut tree on our allotment has provided a good crop and these tiny young nuts in their frilly green can-can cases are sold at market from late summer onwards. Decent packaged hazelnuts can be bought year-round from stores if you don’t have a tree. Cobnuts, filberts, and hazelnuts are all varieties of the Corylus family and whenever I go nutting I am always reminded of the writings of Alison Uttley in her semi-autobiographical novel ‘The Country Child’ as Susan, the main character, picked the largest hazel leaves for her mother to decorate the fruit bowl with: “Victoria plums, freshly gathered with a little dark stalk, and a drop of golden wax, rosy apples, big mellow gooseberries, ripe brown pears, lay on beds of nut leaves, arranged like little green d’oyleys with their serrated edges in decoration.” The Derbyshire fields and woodlands served as seasonal larder as Susan hunted from hedge to hedge ‘as if in the market, to find the best provisions’ and she reminds me of a sharp-eyed and eager little squirrel. If squirrels could bake, I suspect this crumble dish would be their pudding of choice.
FOR THE FRUIT
500g Bramley apples, peeled, cored sliced
500g pears, peeled, cored, sliced
2 tbsp soft brown sugar
FOR THE CRUMBLE TOPPING
175g plain flour
85g salted butter, fridge-cold and diced
45g soft light brown sugar
45g demerara sugar
handful of rye flakes- crushed
handful of spelt flakes- crushed
Heat oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5.
Place the chopped apples and sugar in a saucepan over a low heat and cook for 3-4 mins. Now add the pears and cook for 2-3 mins more, until the fruits are just beginning to soften. Spoon the fruits and their juices into a 1.7 litre baking dish and spread them evenly over its base. Set aside.
To make the crumble, crush the cobnuts and hazelnuts into small chunks with a rolling pin, pestle and mortar or in the food processor. Set aside. Place the flour, cold butter and sugar into a large bowl and either rub in by hand until you have a coarse meal or blitz in a food processor. I prefer a chunky, nubbly crumble topping. Now add in the crushed nuts, the rye and the spelt flakes and stir them into the crumble mix with a spoon.
Scatter the crumble mix on top of the fruits and bake for 20-25 mins until golden brown. Serve warm with cream, crème fraîche or custard.
This should feed four people with reasonable appetites but the recipe can be easily doubled in weights to make a larger crumble.