I thought for quite some time about whether or not to share this post today. Blogging a recipe while my friends and loved ones in Northern California are facing devastating wildfires gave me pause. But one thing I learned while caring for my father during his fight with terminal cancer was that during catastrophic events, the minutiae of daily life are lost and dearly missed—I longed for life's trivial moments that had disappeared.
My heart is broken for those impacted by the fires, but my heart is warmed by the outpouring of love and support from the community (not to mention the amazing fire fighters). Everyone I know is helping to rescue people and animals, opening their homes to and caring for those who have been evacuated, and providing provisions and necessities. Many chef friends are holding fundraisers and cooking for those displaced by the fires as well. Food is more than sustenance for our bodies—it sustains our souls as well.
I hope this blog provides at least a brief distraction, and a little glimpse back into daily life. And I hope that this recipe makes its way into ovens to provide comfort and sustenance for friends who could use some TLC. Love to you all.
One of my favorite things is growing ingredients and cooking meals for friends and family. Feeding the people for whom we care greatly is one of life's most basic and rewarding activities, and being able to grow the ingredients adds even more love. Piping hot, homemade desserts are particularly comforting—perhaps because we associate them with the holidays, with winter. But a summer dessert such as a fresh berry pie has the same effect.
While I have grown all of our herbs and veggies from seed, we did inherit our rhubarb plant and apple and pear trees—the three ingredients from which I make most of my homegrown desserts. Rhubarb compote dominates the summer and fall, and apple crisp takes the leading role in winter. It likely wouldn't have occurred to me to plant them, but surprisingly they've become a big part of my culinary life.
We had an oddly hot late summer and early autumn here in New England—the third week of September brought us highs of around 90 degrees. And then suddenly the leaves were on the ground. We hosted a dinner party on our first real autumn day, and I cooked a meal to suit the season: ginger carrot coconut soup, roasted pork tenderloin, seared radicchio and manchego polenta, followed by apple crisp.
Apple crisp has always been one of my favorite desserts. Well, crisp in general, but I remember my mother making apple crisp when I was a child, so it holds a special place in my heart and memory. She had a nested set of white, oval baking dishes with scalloped edges that I adored, which were made even more beautiful by the bubbling crisp inside. I would immediately steal a clump of topping and get swatted away. Now my husband is the thief and I have become the swatter. (Okay, I am still a thief too.)
For a number of years I had trouble with gluten and had to avoid traditional crisps—but luckily I've been able to reincorporate it problem-free for the last year or so. (I say luckily because many gluten-filled things are absolutely delicious! Of course refined carbohydrates should be eaten in moderation—I enjoy a piece of crusty bread with butter from time to time, or a bite of my husband's croissant or scone. If you're gluten-free or simply enjoy wheat-free desserts then head on over to my Thymed Peach Crisp recipe for an alternative topping.)
When I started eating gluten again I immediately called my mother and asked for her crisp recipe. I made it this summer, and admittedly strayed from its ingredients and instructions—I seemingly cannot follow a recipe without disobeying much of its advice—but Mama's crisp is still in there. As it was summer at the time, I used peaches and blueberries from a local farm instead of apples, but I made it again at my autumn dinner using apples from our orchard.
This recipe can be adapted for any fruit of your choosing, and I've listed both a summer recipe with peaches and blueberries (or nectarines, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc.) with almond extract, and an autumn recipe with apples and vanilla extract. You can't detect the extract, but it adds a certain something to the dish.
I love oats and pecans in my crisp topping, but feel free to omit if you prefer a more traditional version (or use almonds or walnuts instead of pecans). Regardless, I hope you and your friends and family enjoy it. There's not much more comforting than a bubbling crisp hot out of the oven with a scoop of cold vanilla ice cream. And don't forget to sneak a bite of the topping. It's tradition.
(Note: feel free to make the crisp ahead and keep it in the fridge for up to a day, uncooked. Simply preheat the oven, and transfer the crisp from the fridge directly into the oven when you're ready to bake it.)
MAMA'S SEASONAL FRUIT CRISP
Apple - Autumn
- 8-9 tart apples with the skin-on, cored and sliced
- 1 lemon
- a splash of vanilla
- a large pinch of fine sea salt
Peach Blueberry - Summer
- 7 peaches with the skin on, pitted and sliced
- 1/2 pint blueberries
- 1 lemon
- a splash of almond extract
- a large pinch of fine sea salt
- 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 stick cold, salted butter
- a palmful (about 1/4 cup) old fashioned oats
- a handful (about 1/4 cup) pecans, chopped
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a large (about 2 quarts) glass or ceramic baking dish, and set aside.
Prep the fruit: Add the fruit to a large bowl. Zest and juice the lemon into the bowl, and add a splash of extract (vanilla or almond) and pinch of fine sea salt. Toss to combine, and distribute the fruit evenly into your prepared baking dish.
Prep the topping: Combine the whole wheat flour, sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg and remaining 1/2 teaspoon sea salt to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Grab your butter from the fridge, and chop it into small chunks. Add it to your food processor and pulse to combine, but don't over mix—you want some buttery pockets. Add the topping to a medium bowl, and mix in the oats and chopped pecans with your hands, a rubber spatula or large spoon.
Crumble the topping over the fruit (make sure most of it goes on the crisp, not into your mouth—it's tempting, I know. Bake until the fruit bubbles and the topping is golden, about 45-50 minutes. Serve hot out of the oven or at room temperature, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Serves a crowd (at least 10 people)