Autumn, in the UK, is crumble season. A crumble is a traditional baked dessert made from cooked (usually orchard) fruit with a crumbly flour/butter/sugar topping. It’s basically a fruit pie without the hassle of pastry and somehow way nicer than a pie. The humble crumble is probably one of Britain’s favourite puds – especially served with “lashings of custard.”
Sticky toffee pudding is another British favourite; and, if you were in a restaurant trying to decide between the two you would be in a “right quandary.” Well, quand no more, you can now have two desserts in one – this pear and date crumble has the best of both – try it, you won’t believe no one thought of it before.
I wasn’t trying to meld the two, I was just trying to make my home grown pears less boring and accidentally hit on a winner – certainly the best crumble I have ever had. I really had no idea it would be so good – if this pud was in the Great British Bake Off – Mary and Paul would go weak at the knees. I have just had some for breakfast!
My family were sceptical about the added seeds but I brushed off their [rude] comments. “Why do you have to add hippy dippy bits?” and “Yummy, bird seed crumble.” More “heaven in a bowl” for me then. The hippy dippy birdseed definitely adds to the taste/texture/sophistication so don’t be tempted to skip it. Plus, the healthy bits make you feel better about the butter and sugar! I did in fact make the kids a boring traditional apple crumble as well (free apples from the Vicar’s garden).
So here’s my extra special pear and date crumble recipe. If you serve this at a dinner party your guests will want to lick their bowls – I wanted too, but in our house, bowl licking is strictly reserved for my Mum’s flambé bananas with Cointreau and cream – which I never make as my kids hate bananas!
I served our humble crumbles in my Mum’s best – reserved for extra special puddings – Royal Worcester bowls with traditional Birds custard which didn’t thicken for some reason but which, as a result, made for a more sophisticated and fitting “sauce.”
I made my kids’ apple crumble in my antique Wedgwood “crumble” bowl. Wedgwood call it a “serving dish” but I use it as my special – only for crumbles dish – since the pattern is “Bramble” aka Blackberry. Blackberries are much loved by us Brits and we forage our hedgerows for them in early Autumn. The Blackberries’ colour and flavour is a highly prized addition to our crumbles and jams. When I see Blackberries in the shops in packets it makes me want to weep.
I know blackberries are a special fruit but what makes them special is the Sunday afternoon walk with your granny in the great outdoors to get them, the thrill of the hunt, the fact that for a few short weeks a year you can pick fruit from the lanes surrounding our villages and bring it home and bake a crumble and eat it with custard. You may need to be a Brit who grew up with a granny in the countryside to appreciate this fully!
Sadly our hedgerows are all picked now and blackberries don’t grow so well in Scotland either, hence my reaching for the dates. Anyway, it’s a lovely bowl and I treasure it ever since I bought it at a car boot sale at the Oxford (The Slade) Fire Station as a newly-wed visiting my Mum from my new home in California. So, it’s been around the World and back.
Pear and Date Crumble (serves 4)
(Double the recipe if you want a bigger crumble or to make two like I did – one apple, one pear/date). Plum or rhubarb are traditional too.)
- 4 or 5 large firm pears (more if your fruit is normal-sized)!
- 10 dates (quartered)
- 50g plain white flour (all purpose)
- 40g butter
- 20g dark brown sugar
- 20g white sugar
- 20g porridge oats
- 20g yellow cornmeal/fine polenta
- 2 or 3 tbsp mixed seeds or sunflower seeds
To Prepare your Fruit:
- Peel, core and cut you fruit into small chunks and pop them into a microwavable bowl full of water so they dont turn brown while you are chopping the rest.
- When all the fruit is chopped, pour of the excess water and microwave the fruit until soft but not mush (approx 5 minutes).
- Pour of any excess juice.
- Add as much or as little sugar as needed to make it sweet but not too sweet as the crumble topping has sugar. The amount of sugar needed will depend greatly on the fruit you are using and your taste. My Mum always added to much and she reckoned I never added enough! Rhubarb and Bramley apples will need more sugar than pears for example.
To Make the Crumble:
- Rub the flour and butter together with your fingertips as if you were making pastry, it will be hard to get to a breadcrumb stage as there is a lot of butter but just do your best to get the butter as broken up as you can.
- Add the sugar, polenta/cornmeal, porridge oats and seeds.
- Stir with a knife, making sure it is all well mixed.
Assemble (in an ovenproof dish) – I have a lovely vintage pie dish I only use for crumbles.
- Add the chopped dates to the cooked pears.
- Sprinkle the crumble topping on top.
- Bake in the oven at 180C for about 25-30 minutes until the top is lightly browned.
- Serve hot with fresh cream, custard or vanilla ice cream.