Bringing back the Buckle…

and other cooking adventures with seasonal fruit.

We have a weekly (csa fueled) bbq with our friends and neighbors.  Along side grilled vegetables and copious salads, jams, and salsas, often there is a  dish on the table which is filled with seasonal fruits & berries in the design of some sort of rustic American dessert. Friends pile the table with their pies, tarts, crisps, and ice creams! This week the table was graced with 2 varieties of the Buckle; a Blackberry-Ginger-Cardamon Buckle & a Peach-Cardamon-Brown Butter Buckle.

I wasn’t really familiar with the Buckle until I joined a CSA and started consuming more local fruit, (I come from generations of chocolate brownie lovers…) but these days our house has really come to love the buckle; while it may be a bit more work than a crumble, we dig how the cake can hold its own against the juicy sweet fruit and add some easy flavor and “seasoning” by being the vehicle for things like ginger, cardamon, or brown butter.  For us, when we are too lazy to make a pie but aren’t in the mood for a crumble, we rock out the Buckle.

Thanks to our friend’s dad who has a giant blackberry bush that he adores in his Long Island backyard, we got a hefty supply of blackberries several times this year. Yolim used this recipe as a base for his blackberry buckle; he follows recipes rather religiously so the only thing different was his berry choice. With a bounty of peaches in the fridge from the Orchard share, I riffed off this Smitten Kitchen recipe for a nectarine brown butter buckle for my peach buckle. Unlike Yo, I tend to free flow and monkey around with recipes depending on what herbs and seasonings are in the kitchen. I swapped out cinnamon for some freshly pounded cardamon (and probably hiked up the amount; i heart cardamon!) This recipe is a must and the brown butter was a revelation; I had never browned butter but it has now become a secret weapon in the tasty tasty baking arsenal.

The dog days of summer are the best time to relax with a sunset, sweet tea cocktail and a fruity seasonal dessert. Homemade and simple to make, these deserts rely on taste and whatever fresh ingredients are readily at hand, changing names — cobbler, brown betty, pandowdy, grunt, slump, buckle, crisp, sonker, crumble, crow’s nest pudding — in every region across America.

Early settlers of America were good at improvising, a quality that makes their hearty rustic fare popular in our kitchen. When these settlers first arrived, they brought their favorite recipes with them, like English steamed puddings, Dutch pies,  French charlottes and German tarts. Not always finding their favorite ingredients, they used whatever was available developing new traditions and recipes. Regional influences and immigration patterns and farming trends all combined to make a bevy of  American dishes with distinct names and recipes.

Back in the day, these colonists were so fond of these hearty, juicy dishes, they often served them as a main course, for breakfast, or as a first course in a formal sit-down festive meal. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that they became primarily known as strictly desserts. We encourage everyone to follow the lead of those farm based kitchens of yore and dine or brunch on a feast of flour, butter, sugar, milk, eggs, and fruit from the orchard.

Check out below for a quick glossary & recipe list for some tasty inspiration.

  • Brown Betty – Fruit, most commonly apples, baked between layers of buttered crumbs. Popular during colonial times, betties are an English pudding dessert closely related to the French apple charlotte.
  • Buckle – A type of cake made in a single layer with fruit added to the batter. It is usually topped with a streusel-like crumb which gives it a buckled or crumpled appearance. It seems to have originated out of the New England kitchens in response to the ample blueberry harvesta.
  • Cobbler – An American deep-dish fruit filled dessert topped with a thick biscuit crust. Typically baked with peaches, apples, and berries, some versions are enclosed by the crust, while others have a drop-biscuit top. Cobblers are a testament to the English love of pie coupled with the practicalities of the harsh and primitive cooking conditions in the early settlements.
  • Crisps & Crumbles – A baked fruit mixture topped with a crumb & butter mixture, which can be made with flour, nuts, breads, crumbs, cookies, and/or oatmeal. Crumbles are the British version of the American Crisp.
  • Crow’s Nest Pudding – A pudding containing apples whose cores have been replaced by sugar. The  apples are nestled in a bowl created by the crust.  Rooted in a German heritage, it is found in Amish cookbooks and is mentioned in the Little House series.
  • Grunts & Slumps – The early attempts of the English to adapt their steamed pudding to the primitive colonial kitchens. A simple, dumpling-like pudding, they are basically stove-top cobblers. Working wonderfully with whatever seasonal fruit is available, this milky cobblers are known as grunts in Massachusetts and slumps in Vermont, Maine, and Rhode Island.
  • Pandowdy – A deep dish, cast-iron-loving dessert that can be made with a variety of fruit but is most commonly associated with apples, the exact origin of the name & dessert is unknown. It could very well be a rustic version of the French Tarte Tatin, with the name referring to the deserts plain and dowdy appearance. In the old days, it was sweetened with molasses, maple syrup, or brown sugar – whatever was readily available in the kitchen when white sugar was not. We have been known to rock a “pandowdy” or two when camping; Yolim’s campfire pineapple-upside down cake is pretty tight!
  • Sonker – Another take what you have and make a dessert, the sonker is the Southern version of a cobbler, most often cooked in a deep dish cast iron. The Sonker name seems to be rather unique to North Carolina. Southern flavors come through in the ingredient options, ranging from strawberry to cherry to peach to sweet potato. An old plantation -the Edwards Franklin house in Mt. Airy North Carolina— holds an annual Sonker Festival and is now home to a newly dedicated slave cemetary.

    campfire baking!

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