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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An unexpected bounty of apples

Whilst popping out to the local shop last week, I glanced across the road and happened to notice that there were lots of full bags of apples sitting on the grass verge outside one of the houses. 

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This bounty, obviously from the property’s trees, was being offered up for anyone who wanted it – there were so many that they were obviously surplus to requirements – and I have never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Even so, I felt a little nervous when walking over to take one as if it was all a bit illicit! I drove home excitedly, already planning what would be made first. 

As the festive season is approaching, the answer was obvious, especially when presented with such a quantity of apples. So I purchased some cider vinegar, and immediately got a batch of Nigella’s spicy apple chutney on the go, followed by some of her very Christmassy cranberry and apple chutney. Chutney is something I was very suspicious of growing up, but my eyes have been opened in recent years. I especially love the Hampshire Chutney Company’s products (their cheeky chutney is to die for) and was keen to try making my own batch. 

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It surprised me how extremely straightforward it all was and I was chuffed to fill six jars which can be given away to family and friends. The other half and I tucked in with some bread and cheese too and it was an amazing learning process realising what could be produced with just some apples, cider vinegar and storecupboard spices.

And there are still more than a few apples left in the bag, too. Tonight I heated some of them briefly in a pan with a bit of orange juice, butter and cinnamon sugar, and then quickly made a crumble topping with some more sugar, flour and butter. Half an hour later, we had just the pudding for a November day in which we had been out and about in the cold. Joined by a dollop of double cream and a cup of tea, it made for a holy trinity of a post-dinner treat.

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Foraging for blackberries inspires a new crumble for pudding

I can never resist foraging for blackberries; it reminds me of a childhood spent wandering up the back road near our house, and of our immersion in the natural world each summer.

At the end of summer, there were the blackberries, irresistible despite their jagged protectors. We wolfed them down as we were, unconcerned about the odd wiggly creature we found on – or, gulp, in – them. We survived, didn’t we? 

They are one of the only remaining things the majority of us could recognise, happily pluck and take home to eat. Yet, I see so few people out picking them. I foraged in my usual spot a few evenings ago, and chuckled to think of the people in the huge supermarket not more than a mile away paying pounds for a dainty portion of them in a sealed plastic tub. Mine cost me nothing more than scratched hands and arms, and a few thorns in my hoody. I might have discovered the odd spider or creature among them but it was more than worth it for such a rich bounty. 

Rather than my usual blackberry cake, I thought I’d make a few crumbles. We’re seeing my family in a few weeks and crumble is one of our staple desserts; my father has been making amazing rhubarb and apple ones from scratch for as long as I can remember.

So I put together a large batch of basic crumble topping and added a healthy dose of crushed amaretti biscuits, as almond’s a flavour which really works with blackberries. My trusty kitchen helper was only too keen to get involved! We added a scattering of flaked almonds on top, too. 

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The end result was simple but very effective. I prefer not to have too much ‘crumble’ on the crumble but did feel that I could have made it a little bit thicker to make it slightly naughtier treat. Althought we did dollop on a healthy portion of Devon Dream, which has a suitably complementary vanilla flavour.
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I have had a thought that I might add some chocolate chips to the topping next time too. Blackberry, almond and chocolate crumble definitely has a certain irresistible ring to it.