Tuesday, February 22, 2011

As English as Apple Crumble

Apples for Crumble

When I was four years old, my parents moved our family from western New York to central England.  My youngest sister was born there, and my parents stayed until after I'd grown and returned to the States for university. With the exception of those first few years in New York and a few more, later, in central Indiana, most of my childhood was spent overseas.

The street where I grew up
I'm wholly American by birth, but after so much time spent abroad, I'm often a little British by association.  The school uniforms, speech lessons and daily afternoon teas of my youth have left me with an affinity for all things English and also a tendency to overuse the letter 'u' and come up with unique turns of phrase that Matt likes to call my 'British-isms.'  Most of the time they're quaint and cute - like 'spot of tea' or the 'boot' and 'bonnet' of a car - but, occasionally, I'm unintentionally hilarious (apparently a 'rubber' in the States is not an eraser).

With practice and careful attention, I've mastered most of the spellings (so this blog isn't about 'travelling' and I won't be discussing my favorite 'flavours'), but pronunciation is a little trickier and I often find myself stressing the wrong syllable or asking Matt whether 'status' is 'stay-tus' or 'stah-tus.'  Occasionally, a complete phrase slips out, like the time I accused Matt of 'taking the Mickey out of me' (i.e. making fun of me) which, when explained, just made him laugh even harder. To the average listener, most of my slip-ups would go unnoticed and I've cultivated a non-descript but distinctly American accent; my British one is now only used for movie quotes and party tricks, or the rare occasion when I want to 'take the Mickey' out of Matt.

I'm proud to be an American and so grateful for the opportunities this country has afforded me, but I'm also proud of the time I spent in England and thankful for the chance I had to read Wordsworth in the Lake District, study Shakespeare in Stratford and develop a discerning taste for good tea and excellent chocolate (oh, how I miss Cadburys!).

My time overseas forced me to grow up with a greater awareness of the world around me, so it's only natural that I'm sometimes a little homesick for England.  Barring the chance to pack up and visit, the best cure I've found for this homesickness is a bite of familiar food.  You can say what you like about English cuisine - and people have said some awful things - their desserts are divine and I credit my years there for my planet-sized sweet tooth.

Which brings me to my first recipe.  In fact, it might have been the first dessert I ever made for Matt because it's just that good. Honestly.  Americans may have the corner on apple pie, but there's nothing more English than a fresh, warm apple crumble.  Well, except perhaps Marmite (which, unlike this recipe, I wouldn't recommend - it's an acquired taste, for sure).

This recipe entered our family some time during our stay in England and it has been a family favorite, with a few modifications, ever since.  It's a simple dish with simple ingredients and it's simply perfect for those days when I wish I could still 'pop 'round' to the corner shop for a Dairy Milk and a packet of crisps.

Honest-to-Goodness English Apple Crumble 

4 cups apples, peeled and sliced (about 4 medium)
1/2 cup butter, softened
2/3 to 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup flour (I use whole wheat)
1/2 cup oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg, ground

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 C or Gas Mark 5 for British cooks!)
Grease a medium baking dish (I usually use a 1 1/2 quart dish or an 8x8-inch pan)
Place apple slices in layers in the pan.
In a large bowl, cut butter into the flour and sugar using a fork or your fingers. Add remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Mixture should be 'clumpy'. Crumble evenly over apples.
Bake for 20-30 minutes or until topping is golden brown.
Serve warm with a generous pour of cream or, for the true Anglophile, a sunny dollop of Bird's Custard.

A Few Notes on the Recipe:
This recipe is incredibly simple and endlessly forgiving.  I think I make it slightly different each time and it never disappoints.  It's not too showy, but it's good! As far as ingredients go, I tend to use dark brown sugar and whole wheat flour because that's what we keep in the house.  Lighter sugar and plain flour will yield a slightly blonder, less rustic dessert.  I usually adjust the sweetness to complement the apples I'm using; I can get away with as little as 1/2 cup sugar for Gala apples, but more tart varieties or baking apples require the full amount.  After 20 minutes of baking, the apples may still be fairly firm. A longer baking time will yield softer apples, and you can test the firmness with a toothpick or fork. The real secret to this recipe is the nutmeg. It may look like a lot, but it's well worth it.  I always used freshly ground. I hope you have fun experimenting with the family favorite!

This post has been linked to Melt in Your Mouth Monday!

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