Food For Thought

Blackberry and apple crumble

By Charlotte Coleman-Smith.

Blackberry and apple crumble was one of the first things I ever cooked. Let’s be honest – I was a mere spectator, but with the arrogance of extreme youth, I believed it was mostly down to me. My dear mother did not disillusion me. Thus confidence is gained, and peace reigns.

I think I was about six years old. My stained purple fingers would wipe up any stray crystals from the counter as, with her cool hands, my mother coaxed the butter and flour into perfect crumbs before allowing me to stir in the caramel-coloured sugar. Her brick-like Good Housekeeping recipe book lay untouched. No need to consult for this one.

Earlier, we had made a trip up the country lane near our house. I had ignored the sharp stabs on my fingers and tugs on my dress from the prickles, as I foraged in the hedge, competing with my two sisters to bag the juiciest blackberries. The best ones were eaten on the spot. Smaller, meaner ones made it into the plastic tub, as well as any that we found after our tummies were full.

There was always a roast first. After it had been cleared away, we would sit back and gasp in awe as the gorgeously browned creation was whisked to the table. The oven gloves – once white, but now mottled with burns – were part of the theatre. The show could not go on without them.

My father always gave the most effusive praise, licking and pursing his lips within an inch of his life. He would be swiftly, but kindly, put in his place. ‘You haven’t tasted it yet!’ became my mother’s stock phrase, a kind of defensive tactic, deployed in case of culinary disappointment. It was never necessary. Somehow, she always made her crumble with exquisite crunch. I’m still wary of overrubbing and ending up with flat, yellow Caribbean sand instead of the textured rubble of a rockier beach.

Late this summer I went to visit a friend near Hampton Court in London. On our short walk by the river Thames we collected enough blackberries for a decent crumble. Within ten minutes of dumping the leaking purple bag on the kitchen table, we were pressing our faces to the oven door to watch its progress. A simple enough treat – the inky fruit, with its blanket of butter and sugar, was enough to silence five overexcited children.

This weekend, I’m heading to the railway tracks at Booterstown, Dublin. If we don’t fall down the gap between the bushes and the path – we nearly lost our middle son that way one year – we should gather enough blackberries to make a crumble or two and a few pots of jam. It’s the perfect family outing, and the reward at the end – a buttery, hot, sweet and tangy pudding – takes me back to those endless Sundays when homecooked food was the right and proper focus. My very own Proustian moment.

Blackberry and apple crumble

Serves 4-6

Instead of all flour, you could use half porridge oats and half flour. You could also throw in some nuts and reduce the amount of flour accordingly. Naturally, you can vary the fruit as you wish, and add spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg to taste.

2-3 cooking apples, peeled and roughly chopped

2 tbsp caster sugar, or to taste

75g butter, chilled

225g plain or wholemeal flour

110g soft brown sugar

250g blackberries

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

Cook the apples with 1 tbsp water and the sugar until soft. Allow to cool slightly.

Place the cold butter and flour into a large bowl. Gently rub the butter into the flour using the tips of your fingers until you have a texture that resembles porridge oats. Stir in the soft brown sugar.

Place the softened apples and blackberries in a shallow pie dish.

Sprinkle over the crumble topping and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.