With New England summer in full swing, our gardens, shopping carts, and countertops are overflowing with fresh produce. If you’re looking to make quick use of the season’s fruits and berries in a traditional yet simple and delicious dessert, turn to the following words: Slumps; Grunts; Buckles; Bettys; Crumbles; Crisps; Cobblers; Pandowdys.
Add a few exclamation marks and it sounds like a comic book action sequence, but in truth, it’s a series of names for old-fashioned fruit desserts, distinguished by their topping styles and cooking methods. Sometimes the difference between two dishes is slight enough to be virtually undetectable, and sometimes the passage of time and merging of recipes have resulted in a dish being called a crisp when it’s really a crumble, or a pie when it’s really a pandowdy.
So what are the differences between these funny names for old-fashioned fruit desserts? Fear not! I can help. Bear in mind, though, that there are a lot of regional variations in how folks describe these old-fashioned desserts, so you might call it something slightly different.
Guide to Funny Names for Old-Fashioned Fruit Desserts
Grunts are made up of a layer of cooked fruit, usually in a cast iron skillet or kettle, topped midway with spoonfuls of biscuit dough. The skillet is then covered and returned to the stovetop, where the steam cooks the biscuits. They supposedly got their name because of the sound the fruit makes while it cooks, or as an ode to the sound the eater makes once he takes his first bite. You be the judge.
Slumps are grunts that are baked uncovered in the oven instead of steamed on the stovetop. Slumps can be made in a casserole dish or a skillet. The supposedly got their name because of the way the dish slumps over once spooned onto the plate, or as an ode to the blissful effect it has on the eater once he takes his first bite. Again, you be the judge.
What are crumbles? Crumbles consist of a layer of fruit in a casserole dish, on which a soft streusel topping made from flour, butter, and sugar has been sprinkled. Nuts are a nice addition, like the slivered almonds pictured in the cherry rhubarb crumble pictured above.
What are cobblers? Cobblers are fresh fruit covered with a cake or dropped biscuit topping before baking. The dropped biscuit topping gives the cobbler the appearance of a cobbled road, which is likely how it got its name. Cobblers are one of the most popular old-fashioned fruit desserts, with good reason.
What are buckles? Buckles are perhaps the easiest of the old-fashioned fruit desserts to identify because they resemble cake more than pie. A buckle is a layer of yellow cake batter, topped with berries and a generous handful of crumb topping. As the cake bakes, it rises up between the berries, creating a buckled surface. Sometimes the berries are also folded into the cake batter. Buckles resemble a berry-studded coffee cake and taste heavenly. Make use of late summer’s blueberries in a buckle come August.
What are fruit crisps? Crisps are the same as crumbles, only their streusel topping is certainly heartier and crispier, usually thanks to the addition of oats and nuts. Apple crisp is the perennial old-fashioned fruit dessert favorite in the fall, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
What are bettys? Bettys (or “Brown Bettys”) are kissing cousins with bread puddings. Bettys are made of fruit baked between layers of sweet, buttered cracker or bread crumbs. Apple is the most popular Betty. Put her on your list come September when apple season is in glorious full swing, or add one to your Thanksgiving menu.
What are pandowdys? Pandowdys are anything but. This dish turns up as a favorite of John Adams in one of my “president cookbooks,” which claims he celebrated Independence Day with a bowl of the apple variety. Pandowdys start off looking like a pie (bottom crust optional), but the real fun occurs towards the end of baking, when the cook “dowdys” the crust by slashing it and lightly pressing it down so that the bubbling fruit cooks up around the flaky layers. The effect can be decidedly dowdy, but the taste will be divine.
Make good use of New England’s sweet offerings this summer and early fall with one of these traditional fruit desserts.
Which old-fashioned fruit desserts are your favorites?
This post was first published in 2011 and has been updated.