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Recipes and Stories

8 July 2018: Summer Comfort and Blueberry Crumble

Blueberry Crumble is summer comfort food at its very best.

It’s funny how, when we talk about “comfort food,” we almost always mean something that will provide comfort in the cold season, that keeps us warm and cozy inside when it’s cold and bleak outside: a hearty stew, a big bowl of chili or chicken and dumplings, a savory pot pie or pot roast.

But in the heat of summer, we often need comfort just as much as we do in cold weather, and while we may welcome a warm dish in the midst of a steady string of salads, cold soups, and sandwiches, the things that are so comfortable in the cold season are usually not all that appealing when the heat index soars.

When I think of summer comfort food, what comes to mind is my grandmother’s vegetable soup, which she served warm the first day and at room temperature thereafter. It was my grandfather’s summer garden in a bowl. Like the great minestrones of Italy, it was rich and satisfying without being heavy, and cooled, calmed, comforted, and stimulated all at once.

Summer fruit can offer that same kind of comfort without asking nearly as much of the cook. Indeed, it often doesn’t need for the cook to do a thing in order for it to shine: an icy slice of ripe melon, a fragrant, juicy-ripe peach eaten right out of hand, a bowl of berries dusted with sugar and enriched with just a drizzle of sweet cream.

But even when they come to the table by way of a pot or a baking dish, the nicest and most comforting ways of preparing them are usually simplest, a big bowl or mixed fruit salad, or those great staples of summer: cobblers, tarts, and my own favorite, crumbles.

Blueberry Crumble

The great thing about crumbles is they require absolutely no real skill to put together. The fruit and flavorings are simply tossed together in the baking dish and the pastry—essentially a streusel topping—is almost completely foolproof. It can be rubbed together with your bare hands without any worry that it will be toughened by fingers that are too warm or rough.

There’s another crumble recipe in this collection from several years ago, but it happens to be more than our small family of two can consume without becoming a large family of two, so this is the amount I routinely cook for just us.

Serves 4

2 pints blueberries
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Whole nutmeg in a grater
1 lemon
2 teaspoons bourbon
5 ounces (about 1 cup) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 ounces (6 tablespoons or ¾ stick) unsalted butter

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 375° F. Wash, drain, and pick over the berries to remove any stems and blemished fruit. Put it in a glass or stainless steel mixing bowl and add the sugar, cornstarch, ¾ teaspoon of the cinnamon, and the nutmeg. Grate in the zest from the lemon. Toss well, add the bourbon, and toss again. Halve the lemon, taste one of the berries, and squeeze in lemon juice, to taste.

2. Lightly butter a shallow 1½ quart casserole and pour in the fruit. Wash and dry the mixing bowl, put in the flour, remaining cinnamon, and brown sugar, and toss until well mixed. Add the butter and cut it in until the mixture resembles coarse meal, with lumps no bigger than very small peas. You can do this with your fingers: since there’s no added liquid, you don’t have to worry about making it tough by getting the butter too warm. Sprinkle it over the fruit.

3. Bake until the crumble topping is golden brown and the filling is bubbly in the center, about 45 minutes.

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