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; 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 rustic 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? Fear not! I am here to help.
Buckles are perhaps the easiest 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.
Gruntsare made up of a layer of cooked fruit, usually in a cast iron skillet, 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 also be made in a casserole dish. 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.
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.
Crisps are the same as crumbles, only their streusel topping is certainly crispier, usually thanks to the addition of oats and nuts. Apple crisp is the perennial favorite in the fall, topped with a creamy scoop of vanilla ice cream.
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.
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 may be decidedly dowdy, but the taste will be divine.
Can you guess from the photos which of these seven beauties I made to celebrate the Fourth of July?
If you a guessed a Slump, then you are right. The fruit was sweet and juicy, the biscuit topping soft and cinnamon-y, and my front porch the perfect spot for relaxing while holding purple-stained bowls in our laps.
Make good use of New England’s sweet offerings this summer and early fall with one of these traditional, old-fashioned fruit desserts.
Which old-fashioned fruit dessert is your favorite?