Plum Peach Ginger Crumble! Or … what the heck is a ‘crumble’ … and how can I make one for myself?

Sounds tasty, right? But first … a bit of administrivia :)

One of the frequent questions I see on canning discussion lists is … how do you use all the things you can? I understand why they ask that question, too. It’s all fine and good to can all these great foods–to follow all the canning rules and have all these glowing rows of multi-colored jars containing all these wonderful fruits, veggies and meats on your shelves–but how the heck do you use them in your daily meals?

My first answer is always “don’t can anything unless you know FIRST how you’re going to use it!” … but that isn’t really enough. I’ve spent too much time trying to solve that age old “what to cook for dinner” question myself … so in honor of that question, I’m devoting a new category of posts in my blog to it, called Using your canned goodies!

Here’s the first installment. I hope you enjoy! :)

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Thursday is Ladies Day, and that means dessert! It wasn’t raining that morning, but I knew it was coming. I could feel it in the air–and in my hip sockets–so I decided we needed something hearty and warming and bubbly for dessert. A crumble was the perfect choice! :)

When it comes to the culinary meaning of the word, the American Heritage dictionary defines a crumble as:

n. A baked dessert of fruit topped with a crumbly pastry mixture: cherry crumble.

A crumble is basically the culinary point where pie, cobbler, and cake meet. It contains a large percentage of fruit–like a pie–but the fruit and grain-based portions are more mixed together like a cobbler, without clear dividing lines between fruit and crust/cake, and–rather than using a shortening/butter-based, crispy crust like pies and cobblers usually do–it relies on a cakey, crumbly grain-based mix-in and topping to bring it all together.

Crumbles are popular in numerous parts of the country, but they’re a particular favorite down South where fresh fruit is often available year-round. You’ll find any number of recipes online for things called crumbles. Many of them are wildly different, but here’s how I make mine. Feel free to adjust it to your tastes … and make it yours :)

This recipe makes the grain-based part for more than one baked Crumble, so I make it in a gallon-sized zipper bag that I’ll then use to store the remainder. Please use whatever container works best for you.

Into my gallon zipper bag, I measure:

  • one cake mix. And be sure to measure it. You need to know how many cups there are in your particular box because they’re all different: sometimes even with two different boxes of the same flavor and brand. As far as the kind of cake mix you can use, the choice is yours. I tend to stick with white or yellow cake mixes for most of mine because those two flavors don’t fight for dominance. They each tend to meld into the background and let the fruit be the featured player in the crumble. However, you can use chocolate, spice, lemon, or whatever interests you. Be creative! And NOTE: when I can find them, I use the reduced-sugar cake mixes. They work just as well taste- and baking-wise … and they definitely reduce the amount of sugar/carbs in your crumble. If you don’t want to use a cake mix, then you’ll need to engineer a dry cake mixture of your own … just remember that cake mixes contain flavorings and fats, too, in addition to sugar, flour, and leavening.
  • an equal amount of oats. Add in the same amount of oats to your zipper bag as you added cake mix, cup for cup. As far as the type of oats you use, I’ve had similar success using all of the different varieties. The only real difference between them is their texture and absorption rate. The softer/more cut and processed your oats are, the more fluid they absorb … and the doughier they become as they cook. The harder/less cut and processed they are, the less they absorb … and the chewier they end up being when your crumble is done. Listed in order from softest/doughiest to hardest/chewiest, the different types of oats you can use in crumbles are: instant, quick-cooking, regular, and steel-cut. If you have any of them around already, just use that to start your experimentation! And don’t let my statement about using oats stand as the only option here. I’ve found all sorts of things–like pressed barley, rye flakes, rice flakes, etc. … mostly from the bulk sections of specialty groceries–that would make interesting substitutes for the oats. Again, experiment! :)
  • rough-chopped nuts equal to half the amount of cake mix. Walnuts are a sentimental favorite in our crumbles, but I’ve also had great success making crumbles using pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, and others in crumbles. Again, experiment … and use the nuts you like best!

And–last but not least, add in:

  • approx. two tablespoons of ground cinnamon. This is optional–and you can always add/substitute spices that you like best here–but I really like this additional bit of simple spice. It seems to bring out the fruit flavors even more.

Zip the bag shut, then tumble it to evenly combine your crumble mix together. This gallon zipper bag now contains enough crumble mix to make either two or three crumbles, depending on how cakey you like them. Me? I make three crumbles out of this mix, because–again–I like to let the fruit flavors dominate. The crumble mix is just there to hold them together and make them extra tasty! :)

I had one remaining batch of crumble mix in my pantry, so I decided to make a Plum Peach Ginger Crumble for Ladies Day this week, something warm and kinda spicy on the tongue to chase away the Winter blues we’ve all been having.

I preheated the oven to 400 degrees, then took a picture for you of my assembled ingredients:

Starting from noon and moving clockwise, I used a quart of canned Italian plums. This particular jar is from a batch I put up in 2009, gleaned from a friend’s tree that was so absolutely full of thick and meaty plums that year that it was literally breaking its own limbs. Most of the plums were nearly as big as my fist, lush green on the inside and pitch black/purple on the outside. I canned them in water with just a bit of Splenda in it, but when I opened them all these months later … I discovered that the canning process (and all the time they’ve sat since them) pulled a lot of the plum juice out into the Splenda water, creating a thick, sweet, plum-flavored syrup.

I opened the quart jar … and poured every bit of it into my 12X12 baking dish, syrup and all. I didn’t want to lose an ounce of that great flavor :)

I added about a half cup of freeze-dried peaches I bought on my visit to The Dutchman’s store. These continue to please me, both for snacking … and for reconstituting in other goodies. In the finished crumble, you could see pieces of peach that didn’t look any different than they would have if you’d chopped them small/put them in there raw/cooked them that way, so they came back to look/taste/feel very normal/real … despite going into the mix looking more like little bits of peach-colored Styrofoam. The freeze-dried fruits now seem a bit more economical than I’d originally thought … seeing their $53.95/pound price tag. This makes two different meals–and some fairly heavy snacking on my way home–off of a single $2.70 package of freeze-dried peaches. That works for me :)

The next item around the circle is my zipper bag of crumble mix. This was the end of a batch, so that’s roughly the amount I put into each Crumble. I’ll get back to this in a second. I also chipped up about 1/2 cup of the next thing in line–crystallized ginger–and added that to my baking dish, too … a 12X12 Pyrex baking dish, completing the circle.

Here’s a pic of where we are at this point. Aren’t those great Fall colors for a fruit crumble? And the smell! I don’t know which one tickled my nose more: the ginger or those heavenly plums :)

I grabbed the bag of crumble mix (which–as I said–is 1/3rd of the mixture I described above) and added approx. one-half of it to the fruit mixture, stirring it in.

Once I had all of the first half of the crumble mix mixed in–making sure to get everything incorporated/wet–I topped the crumble with the remaining half of the crumble mix, spreading it evenly. From there, I took approx. two tablespoons of butter, sliced and quartered it, and then used the small pieces to dot the top of my crumble … which then went into my preheated 400 degree oven for about an hour.

It’s a beauty, isn’t it? :)

It also smelled and tasted amazing! Even framed by all that sweetness, the tartness of the plums came through … and paired nicely with that bite of ginger.

The walnuts (which I left kinda big, in sizes ranging from halves down) were a great meaty/crispy compliment to the softness of the fruit and the chewiness of the regular oats. And the peaches–which you would have thought, given the tiny weight/volume I added, would have disappeared completely–were right there with the cake mix, bringing a smooth sweetness to the overall dessert that was just wonderful amid all those other sour and tangy and meaty flavors. I think the only thing that could have made it better would have been a bit of whipped cream … but none of us even thought about it. We were too busy enjoying it :)

How can you make a Crumble of your very own? In addition to the oats/cake mix/spice mix, the field is wide open for you and crumbles. You can take any tact you like, make any combination of flavors you like … experiment! And–while I’m here talking expressly about how to use home-canned and dehydrated fruits in these recipes, you can always substitute cans of mass-market fruit, pie fillings, commercially-dried fruits, or even fresh if it’s in season! In other words, use what you have … and know!

Personally, I always like to start with a quart of my canned fruit. I currently have apples, pears, three different types of plums, two different types of cherries, and peaches on my shelves–most of which I was given–so it’s likely to be one of those at my house. From there, I dip into my dried pantry supplies for at least two more fruit options … since I have some canning liquid in that quart of fruit that I need to soak up, liquid it would be a shame to waste after it’s spent all this time mingling with the fruit in the jar. Using some of my dried fruit is a perfect way to make use of both. As far as what fruits I pick goes, I always try to find one that’s really sweet, something that will pair nicely with the sweetness of the cake mix–like my peaches … or dried blueberries or strawberries work great for this, too–and then I look for one that has a strong flavor in some other direction, something sour or sharp or something. It’s why I often reach for things like cranberries or dried citrus peel … or my current absolute favorite: ginger :)

Why do I bounce around like that, rather than pick a bunch of closely-related flavors? That’s easy … I love the combination of different flavors … even discordant flavors! Think about the old cooks adage, about how you need a little salt to be able to taste the sweet better. And it’s not just an American custom. The French serve fruit with sharp, salty cheese. Mexicans put chocolate in their mole sauce, destined to be served with grilled meat. Chinese fry meat in egg batter, then serve it with sweet and sour sauce. The idea is to hit all of the taste receptors on the tongue simultaneously, to combine salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami … all together. If you can accomplish that, then you have created a flavor that most people will find satisfying.

But what do I know? YOU know more about what would make the best Crumble for you and your family … so you’re going to have to decide!

Oh, and you don’t have to pick just one Best Crumble! I think I’m up to like 243 different custom mixes myself … and I’ve loved them all :)

About Lane

Just a canner ... on this food journey called life :)
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