Friday, October 3, 2008

Every Day Fruit Crisp

In More With Less, Doris Longacre Janzen ponders the purpose of dessert. Is it to add unnecessary calories to our diets? Is it to lengthen the dining experience? Is it actually a practice of gluttony? She writes that, instead, dessert can be an opportunity to add a few more nutrients to the meal. I would agree, and would also add that it can be one of the best times to truly appreciate the culinary bounty of any season: spring, summer, winter, or fall.

I am a fruit-a-holic. All winter long I feast on bursting juicy oranges. I pine for the summer berry fields - strawberries in early summer, raspberries and blueberries in high-summer, the late summer stone fruits - cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, and the final stretch into fall filled with harvest pears and apples and Saturday morning forays into wild blackberry patches.

You must understand, then, that my go-to dessert, my favorite of all, is one that preserves, even enhances the fresh beautiful textures and flavors of perfectly ripe, perfectly sweet summer fruits. The recipe is for a fruit crisp topping that can be piled on top of any fresh fruit. I've done this with apples, pears, a raspberry-blackberry mixture, and a few weeks ago with peaches. Having filled my freezer with berries, I hope to make a few apple-blueberry crisps as the fall winds its way into winter.

So when my friend Farnaz tasted the peach version of this fruit crisp, she immediately said, "I need this recipe!" However, she immediately followed that with a comment on her inexperience with baking. This recipe is much easier than pie. It's easy enough to make on a whim for a home-cooked meal, and elegant enough to take to a dinner at a friend's house to be topped with floppy whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

So for you, Farnaz, for special days and for every day, my favorite fruit crisp.

Fruit Crisp

1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup flour (whole wheat or white)
3/4 cup large flake oats
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 tsp each cinnamon and nutmeg
(or, any other spices to complement the fruit you are using... like ginger with pears, etc.)
a dash of salt

In a bowl, stir together everything except the butter. Then, cut the butter into small chunks and add that to the dry mix. Using a pastry cutter (or better yet, your hands!), cut the butter into the dry ingredients until there are no big lumps of butter, but the whole mix is about the consistency of peas.

Pour this topping onto 4 cups of chopped fruit, or berries, or any mix of fruit you like. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Berries may cook more quickly than other fruits such as apples or pears. The ripeness of your fruit will also determine cooking time. The final test, though, is that the top of the crumble is golden and toasty, and the fruit offers little resistance to a fork.

Serve warm, with whipped cream or ice cream.

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