Be it a buckle, slump, crisp, bramble or cobbler it's still yummy

September 03, 1997|By Teresa Gubbins | Teresa Gubbins,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

It seems like a simple question: What do you call a dessert where you cover fruit with dough and bake it?

But there are at least a dozen answers. You could be talking about cobblers or crisps. Slumps or grunts. Buckles or brambles. A betty, a crumble or a pandowdy. Or maybe just deep-dish pie.

Simple, easy and quick to make, each is an old-fashioned, fruit-based dessert that lets you take advantage of the seasonal harvest. At this time of year, that includes so many possibilities, from peaches to blueberries.

"All-American comfy fruit desserts" is what author Sheila Lukins calls them in her book, "U.S.A. Cookbook" (Workman Publishing, $19.95).

Authors Sheryl and Mel London, who researched the desserts for their "Fresh Fruit Desserts" (Prentice Hall Press, $22.95), found that many had roots in England.

"Most of them date back to Revolutionary times," says Mr. London. "I don't think of them as being anything but British or early American. That's why there's such a heritage in New England and parts of the South."

But unlike many old-time recipes, these brambles, slumps and grunts are uncomplicated and fast -- and therefore perfect for today, when time is at a premium.

"Most of them are fairly easy," Mrs. London says. "You have no difficult crust like a tart or even a pie. You can put them together quickly, at the last minute. You can slip one in the oven while you're having dinner, and it comes out hot. It's not an elaborate dessert, yet it can be as elegant as you want it to be."

These desserts are also flexible. If a recipe calls for apricots, for example, you can substitute peaches or nectarines, adjusting for size and juiciness. You can also add and subtract fruits.

"No matter what kind of fruit you use, it's almost always successful," says Mrs. London. That includes frozen fruit, too; be sure to thaw before using.

Coming up with a precise definition for each dessert can be a confusing and amusing quest. When it comes to the betty, most recipes concur: A betty has bread crumbs, for sure except for one recipe, which calls for graham cracker crumbs.

A crumble? That's easy: It's just a hoity-toity name for a crisp.

But a search through various cookbooks for the ultimate cobbler leaves the impression that no two cobblers are alike. One recipe calls for the fruit to be topped with pastry dough, like a deep-dish pie. This is the type of cobbler we usually find on cafeteria steam tables.

Another cobbler recipe drops spoonfuls of biscuit dough over the fruit.

A third starts with a batter on the bottom of the dish, which bakes up around the fruit, like a buckle.

And then there's the case of the slump vs. the grunt.

In "Puddings & Pies" (Yankee Books, $14.95), author Barbara Grunes describes a slump as a fruit dessert that's baked, then "turned upside down."

"No, that's wrong," says Mr. London, firmly. "A slump is done on the top of the stove. It is not baked."

Authors Linda Zimmerman and Peggy Mellody ("Cobblers, Crumbles & Crisps," Clarkson Potter, $11) go one step further, proclaiming that grunts are made specifically in a cast-iron skillet while slumps can be in a saucepan.

The original recipes were very humble, Mrs. London says.

"These old farm ladies in New England used what was on the land in as simple a way as possible," she says. "They used few herbs and spices, which were hard to come by. If it was in season, they used it to make a crumble or crisp -- that kind of determined it."

That simplicity makes the fruit shine.

"It's interesting, these quick fruit desserts -- in an era of chocolate, everybody still loves them," she says.

"Any novice can become a cook and serve this kind of dessert," says Mr. London. "As long as it's delicious, what do you care what it's called?"

Blueberry buckle

Makes 6 servings

2 1/2 to 3 cups blueberries

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour (divided use)

1/4 cup butter or margarine

1 cup sugar (divided use)

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Toss blueberries in 2 tablespoons of flour. Place in bottom of greased 8 1/2 -inch baking pan or pie plate.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cream butter and 3/4 cup sugar until light. Mix in egg and milk. Blend in flour, baking powder and salt. Spoon over top of berries. Combine 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Sprinkle over top of batter. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Serve warm with ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Per serving: 423 calories (25 percent fat), 12 grams fat (6 grams saturated), 3 grams fiber, 60 milligrams cholesterol, 313 milligrams sodium, 76 grams carbohydrates, 65 milligrams calcium.

Strawberry slump

Makes 6 servings

6 cups hulled strawberries, cut in half

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup water

1 cup flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup milk

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