Chef John Ash shares some of his favorite recipes for simple fruit desserts

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Cobblers, crisps, grunts, buckles, pandowdies and clafoutis.

The colorful names for these fruit desserts are nearly as much fun as eating them. Mostly American in origin, they no doubt evolved from the more difficult-to-make pies and pastries of Europe.

Perhaps the mostly widely known of all of these is the “cobbler,” which probably got its name because the top crust resembled the cobblestone streets of colonial America. There's also a theory that it got its name from bakers who “cobbled” together whatever they had on hand to quickly make it.

Depending on your family, part of the country and regional history, each of these were pretty fluid as to ingredients and techniques.

Here is a general lexicon derived from several sources (no two of which absolutely agree!):

Cobbler: Baked fruit topped with a batter or biscuit crust. The topping is often “cobbled” rather than smooth; the topping is generally dropped or spooned in small clumps over or under the fruit, allowing bits of the filling to show through.

In his “Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink,” John Mariani aptly describes how regional variations apply to this and other dishes: “The dish is called Bird’s Nest Pudding in New England; it is served with a custard but no topping in Connecticut, with maple sugar in Massachusetts and with a sour sauce in Vermont." Whew!

Crisp: Baked fruit topped with a streusel topping. It is usually a mixture of some combination of flour, nuts, cereal (especially oatmeal), butter, and sugar.

It can also be made with crushed cookies or even bread crumbs in place of the oatmeal. It generally completely covers the fruit. Also sometimes called a crumble.

Grunt or Slump: Got its name supposedly from the sound the fruit makes as it cooks on top of the stove. Topped with a biscuit dough, it is cooked covered so that the biscuits steam and form dumplings. It is not unlike English steamed pudding and best eaten warm. It’s great to make on a hot day since no oven is required.

Buckle: Has a cake batter poured in a single layer with berries added to the batter. Usually made with blueberries, which sink yet keep their shape in the batter. Once baked, the cake has a “buckled” appearance. Also, sometimes called a crumble.

Pandowdies: According to the “Oxford Companion to Food” by Alan Davidson, this is an old-fashioned deep-dish New England fruit dessert. It is often made with apples, topped with a biscuit-like dough and baked. Partway through the baking time, the crust is broken up and pressed down into the fruit, so it can absorb the juices. This technique is called “dowdying."

Claufoutis: The clafoutis comes from the Limousin region of France. Black cherries with the pits are traditional ingredients. The pits are thought to add a bit of almond flavor. But it’s probably best to pit the cherries so that you don’t incur any dental bills. Other fruits can be used such as red cherries, plums, prunes, apples, pears. cranberries or blackberries.

Basically, it’s a pancake batter to which fruit is added early in the baking.


My grandmother made the most awesome, fresh Peach Cobbler. Before she passed, she confessed that the recipe came from a Bisquick box. This is such a simple and quick recipe that there’s no reason not to make and serve a fresh fruit cobbler regularly. You can use the commercial Bisquick or make your own, which I prefer.

My Grandmother’s Peach Cobbler

Serves 6

4 cups sliced fresh peaches

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

1 cup homemade Bisquick mix (recipe follows)

1 cup milk, any kind

1/2 cup melted butter

2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed

— Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl, combine peaches, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, cornstarch, nutmeg, cinnamon and lemon zest.

Mix together the Bisquick mix, milk, butter and brown sugar. Add mixture to a 7 or 8-inch (4-cup volume) baking pan. Pour fruit on top of the Bisquick mixture, do not stir.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until crust is golden brown and fruit bubbling. Crust will mostly rise to the surface.

Serve warm or cold, with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Homemade Bisquick

Makes 7 cups

6 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons baking powder

1 tablespoon salt

1 cup vegetable shortening (nonhydrogenated such as Spectrum)

Sift flour, baking powder and salt three times into a large bowl.

Cut in shortening with a pastry blender until mixture resembles fine crumbs.

Alternately pulse a few times in a food processor. Store mixture in airtight container in the refrigerator up to 4 months. Use whenever your recipe calls for “Bisquick mix.”


This cobbler is from Gayle Okumura Sullivan of Dry Creek Peach Company. It is based on Lindsey Shere’s recipe from her “Chez Panisse Desserts” cookbook. This is a different approach, more like peach shortcake.

Dry Creek Peach Cobbler

Serves 6

1 cup flour

1 tablespoon sugar plus more for sprinkling

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

— Dash salt

— Dash cinnamon

— Dash freshly grated nutmeg

4 tablespoons softened butter

1/2 cup heavy cream

3-4 cups sliced peaches

— Vanilla bean ice cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk all the dry ingredients together. Add the butter and mix until the consistency of coarse cornmeal.

Add the heavy cream and mix until it just comes together.

Divide into 6 hockey-puck-sized disks about 1/2-inch thick. Place on a baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Serve with fresh peaches and a small (or large) scoop of ice cream.


This is delicious anytime but especially nice at Thanksgiving.

Cranberry Apple Crisp

Serves 8

4 medium apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 4 cups total)

2 1/2 cups (about 8 1/2 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/3 cups quick-cooking oats (not instant)

1/2 cup light brown sugar

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

1/2 cup walnut halves, coarsely chopped

— Vanilla Ice cream or whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the apples, cranberries and sugar in a large, ovenproof casserole; mix until the fruit is well coated.

Combine the oats, brown sugar, butter and walnuts in a medium bowl to form a crumbly topping. Spread evenly over the fruit mixture and bake for 1 hour or until light brown and bubbly.

Let cool slightly before serving; at this point, the crisp can be cooled to room temperature, then covered and refrigerated for 1 day.

Reheat loosely covered with foil in a 325-degree oven for 20 minutes.


Although there is a great debate on what makes a “grunt”, the definition seems to be that a grunt or slump is simmered on top of the stove rather than baked in the oven.

“Grunts” are usually made with berries, and the name supposedly comes from the sound the berries make as they simmer.

Blackberry Grunt

Serves 6 to 8

For the berries:

1/2 cup red wine

1 tablespoon cornstarch

3/4 cup sugar (or to taste)

8 cups fresh or frozen blackberries

2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest

For the dumpling dough:

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2/3 cup buttermilk (or a mixture of plain yogurt and skim milk or water), plus more to make a soft dough

2 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon

— Whipped cream, vanilla bean ice cream, crème fraiche or sweetened yogurt

Mix the wine and cornstarch together to dissolve the starch. Add the wine mixture along with the sugar, berries and zest to a heavy, deep casserole and bring to a simmer over moderate heat.

While berries are cooking, make the dumpling dough by stirring together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl.

Stir in the melted butter. Add enough of the buttermilk to form a soft dough. For reference, it should be wetter than a biscuit dough.

Using a soup spoon, place heaping spoonsful of the dumpling dough on top the fruit. Make sure you have at least one per person.

Sprinkle the dumplings with the cinnamon sugar. Tightly cover with a lid or a sheet of foil and cook the mixture over medium-low heat so that the fruit just barely simmers.

Keep covered until the dumplings are puffed and set and the surface is firm when touched with a fingertip. This will take about 10 minutes or so.

To serve: Spoon the warm grunt into serving bowls and spoon on topping of your choice.


Julia Child’s Cherry Clafoutis

Serves 6 to 8

1 1/4 cups whole milk

2/3 cup sugar, divided

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

3 cups cherries, pitted

— Powdered sugar, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Using a blender, combine the milk, 1/3 cup sugar, eggs, vanilla, almond extract, salt and flour and blend. Lightly butter an 8-cup baking dish and pour a 1/4-inch layer of the blended mixture over the bottom. Set remaining batter aside.

Place dish into the oven for about 7-10 minutes, until a film of batter sets in the pan but the mixture is not baked through.

Remove from oven (but don’t turn the oven off, yet).

Distribute the pitted cherries over the set batter in the pan, then sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Pour the remaining batter over the cherries and sugar.

Bake in the preheated oven for 45 to 60 minutes, until the clafoutis is puffed and brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm.

John Ash is a Santa Rosa chef, teacher, James Beard award-winning cookbook author and radio host of the KSRO “Good Food Hour” airing at 11 a.m. Saturday. He can be reached through his website,

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