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