Museum at Home: Fruit Crisps, Crumbles and Cobblers

This week’s Museum at Home blog post is inspired by the following photo from the St. Catharines Standard Collection of a bountiful peach harvest at the Taylor Farm in 1939.

Six tons of peaches harvested from Doug Taylor’s farm during the 1939 peach season.

As of the writing of this post, we are right in the middle of a beautiful summer season of fresh fruits and vegetables from Niagara’s farms, including peaches. While there are so many ways to enjoy local peaches, one of our favourites is in a peach crisp… or is it a crumble… ?!

Looking into the history of baked fruit desserts, there are three different types that have been common over the years – cobblers, crumbles and crisps.

Cobblers seem to be the oldest recipes and many early pies were sometimes referred to as cobblers. Essentially a cobbler is a fruit dessert that is covered with a pastry of some sort. Some cobblers in older recipe books had pastry on top and bottom while others just covered the top to bake in the yummy fruity goodness!! Today, most people would recognize cobblers as having a kind of biscuit or scone-like covering, and some are even made with cake batter covering the top. This is one to try for the future!

Crumbles and crisps seem to be used interchangeably in many recipes. In their most basic form, crumbles and crisps generally consist of flour, sugar and butter, mixed together by hand with a pebbly or sandy texture and poured over the top of the fruit to cover the whole while baking. Recipes for both of these can also include spices – cinnamon and nutmeg seem to be most popular – and also oatmeal and nuts to add flavour and texture.

Cobblers are best made with harder fruit – like cherries – that take a longer time to release their juices, as the topping takes longer to cook. Crisps and crumbles are best with soft and well-ripened fruit – like peaches – as they cook quicker and release juices that cook into the crispy, crumbly topping.

The general consensus is that all are best when eaten warm with ice cream!

So, because we are right in the middle of peach season in Niagara, today’s Museum at Home will walk through making a Peach Crisp. We used for this recipe the basic proportions for crisps from the Betty Crocker Cookbook, Sixth Edition, with some minor modifications to the spices:

Start by peeling, coring and slicing some nice ripe peaches. This can be a messy, sticky job so keep a wet cloth handy! Peel and slice enough to fill your baking dish of choice.

Niagara peaches! Yum!
Crisps work best when the fruit is almost over ripe so they have a lot of juice!

Next, in a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup oatmeal, 2/3 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp nutmeg. Add 1/3 cup butter and using a pastry cutter or a fork or your fingers, break the butter into the the dry mixture. You want to use slightly chilled butter as you want the butter to be in small pebble-sized pieces throughout the mixture and that it is all mixed together.

Pour the flour mixture on top of your fruit in your baking dish. You might have to push it down a bit to get it all to fit or just make sure it stays piled on top of the dish!

Make sure the butter is fully incorporated into the mixture!

Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes or until crispy and brown and the juices of the fruit are bubbling around the edges. Smell that lovely cinnamon smell!!

Here is the finished peach crisp. The kitchen smells delicious!!

Let your peach crisp cool down a bit and serve in a dish with a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream!


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