My requisite pass

I ducked into the bookstore on my way home from the library last week. I was looking for a title that a friend of mine had recommended. I assumed the position, my chin pointed at a slight angle towards my left shoulder, and walked along the bookcase as quickly as I could while still registering the names of the authors streaming by. Bellow. Chabon. Cheever. Clancy. Dickens. Didion. Other people were doing it, too, moving along the walls of books, chins askew, looking half ahead, and half to the side. There was a man who had wedged himself into a corner, doing his best to create some semblance of a lap on which he could balance an oversized volume. A grown woman crawled around on the floor while another crouch-hopped along, both inspecting the bottom shelves. Typical bookstore behavior. There were collisions between people who were not quite as adept as they imagined themselves to be at keeping one eye on the books and the other eye on the path ahead. One of those people was me.

Shopping for books is not like shopping for anything else. A bookstore browse is the slowest, most solitary browse I know. It’s not like shopping for clothing, where shirts and skirts are whisked from racks into dressing rooms, there's talking, noise, and the fit is known at once. Book browsers stand alone. Legs slightly spread, heads bent, lips apart, silent. Side by side in the non-fiction aisle, they’re worlds apart. I’ve never bought a car, but I wonder if it might be the kind of shopping that feels most like book browsing. You have to get inside, feel the thing moving beneath you, with you, carrying you. You have to test out the ride, hear the engine, feel its particular power.

I found my book. It was time for my requisite pass through the cookbook section. A woman on her knees was thumbing through a copy of The Silver Spoon, and wondering out loud to her friend if she should buy it. “The fruits of the forest crumble in there is great,” I offered. It’s Eli’s favorite crumble, in fact. I hadn’t made it in a while.

When I hear the word crumble, I usually think of a topping thick with oats, something coarse, maybe with clumps that crunch. This version, however, is crumble with an emphasis on crumb. The topping is butter rubbed into flour and sugar, and that’s all. It’s delicate, more like a sandy crust that fuses in a tight layer to the sugared fruit below. If you use a particularly wide-mouthed baking dish, like I did this time around, the crumb layer will be rather thin, and the fruit will bubble up and lap at its edges. I usually prefer to make this crumble in one of my deeper, narrower dishes so that I can mound the crumbs higher on top of the fruit, but so much time had passed since I last made it, that I had forgotten. It was good this way, too.

Fruits of the Forest Crumble
Adapted from The Silver Spoon

“Fruits of the forest” is just a frilly way of saying “whichever berries you have on hand” which, in my case, meant a few baggies of blueberries and raspberries packed away in the freezer. Use what you’ve got. The original recipe calls for all white flour, but I like to use a mix of white and whole wheat. Because I have a feeling that you might ask, I should tell you that I’m not sure why the recipe tells you to let the topping rest before baking. I went to my usual sources, and came up dry. Any thoughts? (Because I am a rabid directions follower, I always wait.)

For the topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter

For the fruit:
4-5 cups mixed berries, such as blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries (if your berries are frozen, do not thaw)
½ cup brown sugar

Make the topping:
Sift the flours into a large bowl, and stir in the sugar. Cut the butter into half-inch cubes, and scatter into the bowl. Use your fingers to rub the butter into the dry ingredients. Let the topping stand in a cool place, but not in the refrigerator, for about 30 minutes.

Make the fruit and assemble the crumble:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

Put the berries into a deep baking dish, add the brown sugar, and mix well. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit, and bake for 40 minutes, until golden brown.

Serve warm.

Yield: 6 servings.

p.s. -- Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Here are a few recipes just under the wire:

Cranberry apple pandowdy
Dutch appeltaart
Tarte aux pommes
Pear tarte Tatin

Cranberry applesauce
Cranberry relish

Boozy Mulled Cider

And for the post-Thanksgiving flop on the couch:

Kettle corn and a movie


Danielle said...

Happy Thanksgiving! This looks delicious. I made an apple crisp last week and was dreaming of berries (it feels so long already since berry season at the market).

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this simple, delicious sounding dessert. I'll be adding it to my menu for Thanksgiving tomorrow, using blackberries from my freezer. I LOVED your description of bookstore browsing . . . so very true and my favorite pastime!

A Plum By Any Other Name said...

You can never take away the power of a good book. Or a good crumble. Or a good book that has a good crumble recipe. Sounds lovely!

Happy thanksgiving!

Char said...

i'm thinking so the butter can soak into the flour mixture so it will really "crisp"?

but yum

Jess said...

Hi, Danielle. Yes, berry season does feel like a very long time ago. I feel a little guilty every time I dip into my stash in the freezer. (Ridiculous, I know!) This crumble was definitely worth depleting the supply.

I love that you're serving this for Thanksgiving tomorrow, Anonymous! No offense to those heavenly double-crusted pies out there, but sometimes I think that a simple crumble is actually better suited to bringing up the rear of a rich and heavy Thanksgiving meal.

A Plum By Any Other Name - You said it. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

Char - I think you're right that it has something to do with the texture of the topping. Obviously, I need to do some research, which will probably involve my not following the rules of the recipe once or twice (gasp).

Lisa said...

Happy Thanksgiving Jess! : )

Molly said...

books and crumbles: my favorite things. i hope you like the new book. i can't wait to eat this delicious dessert again. happy thanksgiving! xo

Rachel said...

The draw of a bookstore is hard to resist. I love browsing for hours whether I buy anything or not. I have a kindle now so bookstores are less useful. Still, they pull me in the same as before and I can explore all I want with a valid excuse for now buying anything!

the blissful baker said...

i love that this recipe uses mixed berries. yum!

molly said...

My head knows precisely this half-cocked, slightly pitched angle. I wouldn't doubt that it naturally falls into it, when I sleep.

Hope your travels home were safe and joy-filled. A very happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, Jess.

Jess said...

Thanks, Lisa. The same to you!

I can't wait to read it and talk about it with you, Molly. Over crumble, perhaps. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too. xo.

Hi, Rachel. I've been curious to hear from book lovers about their take on the Kindle. It sounds like it's working for you, but that the pull of the bookstore is still as strong as ever!

Blissful baker - I especially like making this with frozen berries in the fall and winter to resurrect a bit of summer.

Thanks, Molly. We're in Columbus now and so happy to be here. (Though, whoa, it's cold!)

Michele Napoli said...

A solitary stroll through the bookstore is one of the simple pleasures in life.
The promise of a crumble waiting at home would make it all the better.

Jess said...

Hi, Michele. That sounds just about perfect. Happy Thanksgiving!

kamran siddiqi said...

That angle- I am very accustomed to it whenever I am at the bookstore.

I have tons of blueberries and raspberries in the freezer! And if I convince myself to get off of the couch, I may just run into the kitchen to make this. Lovely photos and beautifully written post! :)

linda said...

i live near large chain bookstores but, my true love of book browsing is at indie bookstores. an indie bookstore is sacred ground…like a vault filled with great treasures!
i love this season of new cookbooks…love the paper stocks on most, the photographs & stories…2 new favs of mine are sarabeth's bakery: from my hands to yours (rizzoli published & it is a beauty) &
dorie greenspan's around my french table…
oh…so sorry to be rambling on…
i hope your thanksgiving with eli & family was wonderful…
we all have a lot to be thankful for…we who comment here are thankful for your beautiful posts, recipes & your exquisite taste level.

Lisa said...

After Stage One of soup and soda bread and chicken and blue gatorade, I have to say it's been sugar and butter and flour that's been nursing me back to health lately. This post is making my mouth water. Gotta love a good crumb. See you soon!

Anne said...

Beautiful. I commend your for taking a inherently humble dish and making it look intriguing. I didn't know if it was sweet or savory, only that it looked good.

cravingworthy.com said...

I am likely the girl you see at the bookstore, crawling on the floor or sitting in a corner with a small stack of books I'm 'test-driving.' I absolutely love your writing and how easily your experiences relate to my own. Keep up the wonderful work!

Kasey said...

I love your description of bookstore-browsing. It's something I feel like I do almost every weekend--sometimes, I leave empty-handed. But no matter what, I always feel full-filled. I'll have to dig into my copy of the Silver Spoon! Haven't cooked from it in a while.

Jess said...

Thanks, Kamran. I'm envious of your berry bounty. I'll have to do some serious rationing to stretch our dwindling supply through the winter.

You're so kind, Linda! I'm so grateful for this space, and for all of you who show up here to read and cook and chat. Thank you for the cookbook recommendations. I've heard great things about both of these books.

Hey, Lisa. Well, if that's the prescription for Stage Two, I'm pretty sure I can help you fill it. "It would be my pleasure."

Thank you, Anne. It's a dessert crumble. You can adjust the sugar content in the berries for a tarter or sweeter dish.

Hello, cravingworthy. You're Jacqui's friend, right? Thanks for stopping by, and for saying such nice things. I'm a bookstore crawler, too, by the way.

Hi, Kasey. I also wander through the bookstore regularly, even when I have no intention of purchasing anything. Especially in the wintertime, I often duck in on my way home just to warm up for a few minutes. And: A belated congratulations to you and Matthew on the new blog! It's looking great over there, and I love the concept.

Maddie said...

I love the elegant way you describe a routine, quiet moment such as book-hunting -- it's not often enough that I slow down and think about things like this. Plus, I smiled at the "fruits of the forest" reference; my college roommate used to be obsessed with fruits of the forest jam. :) Good stuff, all of it.

Jess said...

Thanks, Maddie.

Jeff Rasmussen said...

Everyone could use a bit of summer on days like today! Good note on reminding folks to use frozen. And I love the polaroid pics! Great looking dish! Bravo!