crumble

INHERITANCE RECIPES: FRUIT CRUMBLE

An occasional series in which I pass on recipes that have been important for our family. They’re mainly for my children, Miriam, Finn and Benjamin, but I like to think other people might stumble across them and enjoy them too.

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Ask me to remember your grandfather looking happy and I will tell you about crumble. If he knew it was on the menu, a little smile would play around his mouth all through the meal. The astonishing thing is that Ben does exactly the same thing: it’s funny how mannerisms can be inherited as well as looks.

Your grandmother is the doyenne of crumble making. Until very recently you would always find one in her kitchen, the buttery crust crumbling slowly and gently into a base of fruit she had often grown herself.

You can all argue about which one is best: it’s certainly what she and I were doing after Grandpa’s funeral (you will understand it was inevitable the conversation would turn to his favourite pudding). Your great uncle James said plum crumble is better than all the others; Grandma voted for apple, and I was torn between apple and blackberry, and rhubarb.

Since Ben continues to be disappointingly averse to rhubarb, I offer you the former but it’s only a guide: you can use whatever fruit you want. Possibly it’s the only pudding recipe you ever need.

Try and be precise about the quantities for the topping; for the fruit, just use what you’ve got and add however much sugar feels right. It’s hard to be more exact than that but I suppose if you want measurements, you could aim for about 450g of fruit and 30-50g of sugar, depending on how sharp the fruit is.

This is important: don’t muck around with the topping. Recipe books will try and make you add oats or ground almonds or goodness knows what else, but all you need is flour, butter and sugar. The only variation I’ve ever found helpful is sometimes swopping half the white flour for wholemeal: it gives a nice nutty flavour.

There’s just about time to pick some blackberries now, but be quick – they’ll be over in a matter of days.

Oh, and sorry about the imperial measurements. It wouldn’t feel like Grandma’s recipe if I converted it, but you can of course.

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APPLE AND BLACKBERRY CRUMBLE

Topping
10 ounces plain flour
5 ounces butter
4 ounces soft brown sugar

Filling
2-3 large Bramley apples
Several handfuls of blackberries
Demerara sugar

Method
Peel the apples, slice them thickly and put them in a sink full of water to stop them going brown.

Rub the butter into the flour, or whizz in a food processor

Stir in the sugar.

Now put the fruit into an ovenproof dish. Here’s a funny thing about your Grandma: she always made us dry the apples in a tea towel and then add two tablespoons of water once they were in the dish. You will probably see immediately that there is no need to dry the apples if you are going to add water to them. It took me years to spot this.

Now stir in some Demerara sugar and imagine your grandmother saying, as she did every time: ‘I like using Demerara because of the crunch.’

Pile the crumble over the fruit, smooth it out a bit with the back of a spoon, and cook at 180 degrees for 35-40 minutes. You want juices to be just bubbling over the top.

We always had it with single cream but a thick blanket of custard is pretty good too.

knot your regular apple crumble

Knotweed stemsTwo words to strike fear into the heart of any gardener: Japanese knotweed. This is a plant unparalleled in its thuggishness, more invasive than the Romans and so difficult to eradicate that it is actually illegal to put it in your dustbin.

Fallopia Japonica was brought to the UK by the Victorians who liked its ornamental appearance but did not realise that their descendants would forever curse them for introducing a plant that can grow a metre in a month and has the power to displace tarmac and even force its way through brickwork.

Huge sums of money are spent by local councils attempting to kill off this brute but it takes a place like Incredible Edible Todmorden to find a way of putting it to good use. Up at Incredible Farm, a brilliant social enterprise that is, among other things, training young people to become market gardeners, they’re harvesting the knotweed shoots and cooking them up for a new kind of gastro experience.

Helena Cook, herbalist extraordinaire and the brains behind Todmorden’s fabulous apothecary garden, goes so far as to call Japanese knotweed ‘the new superfood’. According to her, it has been used for centuries in eastern medicines to treat a range of ailments from heart problems to liver disease. Pharmaceutical companies use it to produce resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant that can slow the ageing process and reduce age-related illnesses.

New shoots of Japanese knotweed look a little like a pink version of asparagus but the taste is similar to rhubarb. I’ve tried them lightly fried in olive oil, which was OK, but tonight I thought I’d try one of Helena’s suggestions: a fruit crumble.

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I had a cooking apple that needed using up, so I mixed that with some freshly picked Japanese knotweed shoots and Demerara sugar, scattered a crumble top over and baked it for about half an hour. It was absolutely delicious.

This is the recipe as best as I can remember it. The crumble top is in ounces because it’s my mum’s formula that she’s been using for more than half a century and to convert it into grams would seem a bit sacrilegious somehow.

Japanese knotweed and apple crumble

 Base
About 250 grams Japanese knotweed shoots
One medium cooking apple
About two heaped tablespoons of sugar, preferably Demerara for the crunch

Topping
5 ounces plain flour
2 1/2 ounces butter
2 ounces soft brown sugar

::Cut the knotweed into pieces about 4 cm long. Peel, core and slice the apple, mix with the knotweed and sugar and place in an ovenproof dish.
::Whizz the flour and butter in a food processor and mix in the sugar. Scatter on top of the fruit and bake in a medium oven for about 30 minutes.
::Serve warm, preferably with custard. Crème fraiche is good too but lacks the comfort factor.

 

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Incredible Farm’s apprentice Jed wrote a nice blog about Japanese knotweed here. I’m looking forward to hearing what ingenious recipes Helena comes up with for Jed’s harvest.

Rules for disposing of Japanese knotweed can be found here.

And as Jed says: ‘The same caution should be exercised consuming Fallopia japonica as to other plants that contain oxalic acid.’ See www.netplaces.com/foraging-guide/becoming-plant-wise/allergies.htm