I have written many times that my mother wasn’t really a cook. She was a working, single mother and it wasn’t really in her repertoire to cook. Occasionally, she would make a meatloaf or the requisite holiday dinner but normally it was a sandwich, doughnuts, Kraft Mac & Cheese, possibly a can of Campbell’s Pork and Beans (very Sandra Lee).
It wasn’t until I moved to New York City that my taste buds began to experience real food and cooking. One of my teachers in my gastronomic learning was my roommate, Teresa. Born in Massachusetts, outside of Boston, from a family of 9, she quickly became someone I thought of as a family member; plus, she loved to cook. She made simple American dishes like “baking soda biscuits”, roasted chicken and made delicious “Apple Brown Betty” which is what she called it. Really it was just a “crumble” also known as a “crisp”.
Brought over by English settlers, a crumble or crisp, is baked fruit topped with a crust of sugar, butter and flour. And one of the most amazing things in the American cooking world. It’s a simple concoction that conjures up Norman Rockwell scenes: kids frolicking in freshwater lakes, post an afternoon of strawberry picking or climbing apple trees, yanking down bushels of apples. (None of which I experienced growing up in Baltimore. Besides, I had never seen a berry plant much less an apple tree in the urban Seventies landscape.)
It was Teresa’s Irish family cooking which opened me to this bit of Americana. I can still smell the baking aromatics of cinnamon and nutmeg with the sweetness of the apples. She would pull it from the oven still bubbling hot and top it with some cheap ice cream bought at one of the local bodegas.
It sort of came back to me when I was moving. I was triggered to make a crisp for me and Nick. It’s funny how doing something can make you want to do something else. A move is stressful and I wanted to eat something nostalgic, when I thought life was simpler like living in New York City and being a club kid. (LOL)
You will need:
- 2 pounds of hulled and sliced fresh strawberries
- 2 or 3 cups of fresh blueberries
- 3 tbs. of cornstarch
- 1 cup of brown sugar
- ¾ cups flour
- ¾ cups quick-cooking oatmeal
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg (optional)
- ½ cups Butter
Preheat oven to 350 F. Put the berries into a large bowl. Toss berries with cornstarch. Butter a 10″ glass pie plate or loaf pan and place the berries inside.
In a medium sized bowl, mix together the brown sugar, flour, rolled oats and cinnamon. Cut butter into the dry mix until resembling “crumbles”. Place over top of the berries.
Bake for 45-55 minutes with a rimmed baking sheet just in case it bubbles over.(Hate having to clean an oven!)
Serve warm with your choice of ice cream…vanilla is probably my choice because it’s tasty and doesn’t conflict with the berries. You can top with some homemade whip cream. (Add a touch of bourbon to the cream….whoo- hoo!)