Hello there! My name is Sarah, and I live in Surrey, England, with my family. I’m a home cook and baker guided by seasonal eating. I find inspiration in my modest, edible garden and foraging in nearby woodland. I share my food and nature adventures on my blog, A Slow Gathering.
I would like to share with you my favourite Autumn fruit crumble and the humble ways in which it has been a cornerstone of childhood Sunday dinners. This recipe is a consistent favourite in my own baking repertoire.
The Sweet Nostalgia of Autumn
Childhood memories awakening with the fiery hues of the changing landscape. Recollections of squeaky new school shoes kicking through crisp leaves. Drying puddle soaked socks on the radiator and threading old shoelaces through freshly varnished conkers. Wisps of smoke from garden bonfires that permeate the damp air and an excitable gasp, hearing that first firework crack abruptly in the blackened stillness of the night sky.
It’s a season that puts roses in your cheeks, as my Gran would say. With the last lingering light of summer and the ensuing darkness of winter fast approaching, bringing with it a yearning to hibernate and seek warmth and solace indoors. Gathering our loved ones around a candlelit table, shutting the door on the gusty, leaf swirling winds and drizzle, reviving our windswept souls with the joy of simple, home-cooked food, hearty suppers, and homely puddings.
Food can fortify and nurture our senses with echoes from the past. Recalling lost memories with each devoured spoonful, and savouring familiar aromas that waft temptingly from the kitchen.
A Sunday Night Favourite
As a child, I spent a great deal of time outdoors. Riding my bike along the pavement outside our house or playing hide and seek with neighbourhood kids, staying outside until dusk, paying no mind to the encroaching chill of the dwindling daylight. The skies turned blush pink, the street lights flickered awake, and our mums would call us home for dinner. As I climbed the steps to the front door, the most beguiling aroma of cooking would greet me. It warmed my frozen bones with a blast of hot steamy air from an open oven door, enticingly scented with roast chicken, rich onion gravy, and the sweet fruity hint of an autumn crumble bubbling inside.
My memory of an autumn fruit crumble began then, a Sunday night favourite, usually made with apples, as we had so many apple trees in our garden. Achingly sweet and warming. My sister and I would sit cross-legged on the floor with our bowls of fruit crumble and watch a Sunday night BBC drama on TV, usually an episode of ‘Miss Marple.’ Our cheeks glowing pink from the heat of the fire and the contentment of the crumble. Sitting ever so still, quietly filling our bellies, desperately trying not to scrape the bowl too loudly as we guzzled down the very last bit. We shooed away greedy cats trying to lick the leftover cream from the bowl, which would undoubtedly give the game away that we had finished, prompting Mum to say, “Ok now, bedtime you two.”
With a bittersweet taste, we’d eat that last spoonful, knowing that Monday morning and back to school was only a sleep away.
Then and Now
I now see that same sentiment etched onto my children’s faces. That Sunday night feeling. I feel it still myself, but from a mother’s perspective; packed lunches to make, uniforms to iron, swim kits to wash.
It’s one of those typical Autumnal Sunday afternoons. The rain has poured in fitful spurts throughout the day, broken occasionally with a burst of sunshine. The dark grey clouds, incongruously too bright, make the rain droplets on the trees look like sparkling diamonds and the puddles like large oval mirrors.
I sit by the window looking out at the darkening evening skies, while tree branches reach out and scratch an unnerving tap-tapping on the window pane. My husband has taken the kids to the park, and I’m wondering if they’ll make it back before the next deluge. Shortly, I spot my daughter’s head bobbing up the driveway. She’s been allowed to cycle back from the park ahead of the others, and the thrill she feels with this new independence is palpable. She has roses in her cheeks.
A New Crumble Story
Later, I sit and help my son with his homework while I pair up grey school socks ready for the week ahead. The oven is warming, I’ll pour a glass of wine, put the radio on, and begin peeling potatoes for roasting. There’s an abundance of pears in dishes on the kitchen table, I’ve bought too many I think, lamenting the lack of pears on our own little tree again this year. So a fruit crumble seems inevitable. My eldest will hear the chink of jars from the baking cupboard as I retrieve flour and sugar, and she’ll want to help, so I’ll let her. She’s already an expert crumble maker. There’ll be a dusting of flour over everything, but that doesn’t matter.
I head outside into the diminishing light of the evening, the winds are getting wilder, but it’s invigorating stepping out after the steamy heat of the kitchen. The grass is sodden. I steer past puddles and try to avoid stepping on slugs, remembering too late I’m still wearing my slippers. I go to fetch the few kitchen towels still barely clinging on to the washing line and the muddied one lying on the ground, but get distracted and decide to pick some flowers for the table; Japanese Anemones, Sedum, Pyracantha berries, Acer leaves and some faded heads of Hydrangea.
After dinner, I clear the table, put the last bit of the autumn fruit crumble in the fridge, thinking I might have it for breakfast with yoghurt tomorrow, and wash the dishes that won’t fit in the dishwasher.
From upstairs, I hear the giggling chatter from children getting into pyjamas, negotiating five more minutes playtime before bed, bickering over borrowed books, and suddenly remembering that ‘thing’ they had to do for school the next day. I turn around in time to catch the cat with her head in an empty crumble bowl, licking what remains. She lifts her head in alarm as I shoo her off the table. I just catch sight of a blob of cream on her nose as she jumps down and scurries away, “ Caught you,” I think, and I can’t help but smile.
The Art of Making a Fruit Crumble
The perfection of a crumble is in its humble simplicity and the ease in which it can be adapted and meddled with. My recipe for Autumn Fruit Crumble can be followed concisely, or it can be used as a guide.
Some alternatives; Swap the ground almonds for oats or seeds, the vanilla for ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom, and lemon zest and juice instead of orange. Use whichever seasonal fruits are to hand; apples, pears, plums, blackberries, rhubarb, quince, and peaches are all befitting bedfellows to a crumble topping.
One thing I would say is that it be handmade. Forgo throwing it all into a food processor. The art of making a crumble, much like pastry, is the delicate finger rubbing of butter and flour. Lose yourself and enjoy the moment, it is as slow and comforting as the pudding itself. Notice how the mixture feels between your fingers and add more or less flour accordingly.
My recipe is for a more buttery, crumbly mixture, so add more flour if you prefer a more dusty topping, a tablespoon at a time until the consistency feels right.
By Sarah Hemsley | A Slow Gathering