Dad’s apple crumble

I grew up in a home where my dad did the bulk of the cooking. He got back from work first, so he’d have the family meal on the table by the time my mum arrived. It never struck me as unusual at all, and I learned quite a few tricks from him over the years.

Now I do all of the cooking in our house – I didn’t marry a man who took after my father in that respect! There are times when I think back to dad and all of his hard work, especially when I end up throwing together something in the kitchen that has come straight from his textbook.

One of his key puds is apple crumble. When we had rhubarb growing wild in our garden, the pinky batons were his favoured filling but now it’s apple all the way. I think he averages two a week, and my mother regularly requests a few to be given to her friends, fellow charity shop volunteers or just a stranger she meets – almost. Northern Ireland is THAT friendly.

The cooking apples which came my way recently did end up in my kitchen in a very Norn Iron fashion. Walking back from our local post office, I happened to smile at an older gentleman coming the opposite way, a habit I’ve almost grown out of after almost 13 years living in the semi-hostile standoffish south of England. Obviously deeming me worthy, he stopped abruptly and said, “Would you like some apples?”, gesturing to three plastic bags he was holding.

Offering him a pot of chutney or apple-related treat in return – which he refused – he then encouraged me to take a few apples from the bag, explaining that they’d come from his daughter’s garden. Off I trotted with my bounty, and, feeling too knackered to make anything elaborate / I’d have to think about, I set about putting together a basic crumble a la dad.

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A soupcon of apple carnage later, I put the cubed apples into a pan with a little water and caster sugar.

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After adding a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg and whipping up a batch of crumble topping – flour, butter, rolled oats, demerara sugar (added after you rub the butter into the flour, obviously) – off my two crumbles went into the oven for 40 minutes at 160 (fan).

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I ate a large portion afterwards with some custard made from Bird’s powder. It was a comfort on a rainy, rainy, autumn day – and definitely a taste of home sweet home.

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Food for a dark and rainy evening – butternut squash toad in the hole

I wrote my column last week (for the day job) about the very great pleasures of autumnal cooking, of those nippy days when you come home to concoct something warming, The contrasts just can’t be bettered and there’s no such attractive positioning of opposites every evening summer. We leave a hot day to walk into a hotter, humid house – yuck, I’d rather be a bit cold for the very great pleasure it then gives me to step into a cosy home, hunker down under a blanket, and don snuggly clothes such as thick socks, fleecy pyjamas and big chunky jumpers. Bliss. 

As it’s colder, the autumn standard meals are coming out – and one of them is this. Bangers suit this season so well, and I am a particular fan of good old Toad in the Hole. We’re always trying to include vegetables when we can, and this is a perfect example of a dish where you can tuck them in and it still always seems to turn out fine, especially if you don’t get neurotic about the height of your rise. As I am in the business of feeding the family, not winning awards, I never worry about just this issue.

I tend to throw some sprigs of rosemary on top before cooking. This time, I went a step further, attacking some – not too much – with the mezzaluna and adding it to the batter. It worked a treat, adding just the right amount of scent and taste. 

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All in all, the husband was a very appreciative audience for the end product. He’s not half bad really and doles out praise quite generously! I was also chuffed with it and the batter was nicely light too. And it rose just as much as I could have hope for, given how much else I threw in the tin with it. 

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