Thursday, September 30, 2010
Unforbidden Fruit Crumble
To satisfie the sharp desire I had
Of tasting those fair Apples, I resolv'd
Not to deferr; hunger and thirst at once,
Powerful perswaders, quick'nd at the scent
Of that alluring fruit, urg'd me so keene.
Is there any fruit in the world that conjures a more wholesome image than a ripe, red apple? And is there anything that makes a house feel cozier than the smell of apples and cinnamon, baking away in the oven? And isn't this love affair with Malus domestica somewhat ironic, in light of the tradition that the Fall of Man was brought about by Eve's disobedient choice of snack in the Garden of Eden (she could have had a persimmon, or a kumquat, but nooo...)? True, Genesis refers only to "...the fruit of the tree...in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die," and various interpretations have had Our First Mother eating figs, grapes, and even lemons, but the apple was firmly (see what I did there?) established as the forbidden fruit by at least the Middle Ages.
Certainly, any serious challengers for the title were out of the running by the time John Milton was writing Areopagitica (1644), in which he names the "fruit of the knowledge of good and evil" as an apple, and his portrayal of events in Paradise Lost (1667) pretty much sealed the deal for apples and women alike. Henceforth, everyone knew that Eve was manipulated into doing/eating something she shouldn't by a fast-talking, charismatic snake - I'd say this was hardly the first time this had happened to a girl, except that I guess it actually was - and future generations have been paying the bill ever since. (Oh, that Old Testament God: no sense of perspective or humor!)
Jehovah and Uncle Milty notwithstanding, the association of apples with health, innocence, and outdoorsy goodness has persisted (Mom's apple pie, anyone?), and this is particularly evident in literature and imagery aimed at children (an apple for teacher, apple-cheeked cherubs, etc). In fact, just a few years ago, the Victoria and Albert Museum mounted an entire exhibit on the subject, A is for Apple: Apples in Children's Illustration. Interestingly, in the case of the Beatrix Potter image above, the fruit's potential for fermentation seems to have restored some of its Original Sinfulness: "Cecily Parsley is tipping apples into a pancheon (a large shallow earthenware bowl, wider at the top than at the bottom, used for setting milk to stand in). The background is actually the kitchen at Hill Top, the farm owned by Beatrix Potter. The design of this watercolour was re-drawn for the publication. The published version replaces apples with cowslips at the insistence of the publisher because they did not want to mention alcohol in a children's book. [Note the bottles of gooseberry wine in the foreground - ed]." It's nice to know that the apple hadn't completely lost its edge, even in the very teeth of Victorian sentimentality!
By this point, the reader (if indeed s/he is still reading) is likely thinking "Okay, okay, but when are we going to get to the food already?" and their patience is about to be rewarded. One of the most lovely, comforting things to make with apples is a crumble; the fact that it is also idiot simple only adds to its homespun appeal. Although its name evokes Hardyesque notions of buxom Wessex milkmaids, selflessly making crumbles for rugged yeomen and sensitive, misguided swains with stupid names like Angel Clare, the dish's origins reach only as far back as WWII, when rationing made it difficult to gather sufficient quantities of flour, fat, and sugar to make a proper piecrust. Essentially, a crumble deconstructs the pie into its disparate elements, then reconstructs it as A Whole Other Thing. And what a thing it is: every bit as good as a pie, but less work, and less definitively associated with dessert. In fact, I made this for breakfast one recent grey, gloomy morning, when the skies were teeming with rain, for the simple reasons that, A. I woke up hungry, which almost never happens, B. I had a bazillion apples reproaching me from a bowl on the kitchen table, and C. the cozy chimes of our recently-inherited grandfather clock demanded I Make Something British. And so I give you: the apple crumble. Serve this warm with Bird's custard, and you will believe yourself transported to Paradise. If you're feeling magnanimous, you could even share with any snakes you might happen to know. Or not.
Unforbidden Fruit Crumble
~ 6-8 good baking apples, depending on the size
~ 2 tbsp. agave nectar or maple syrup
~ 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
~ 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
~ 1/2 teaspoon salt
~ 1/4 packed dark brown sugar
~ 4 tablespoons vegan margarine, chilled
~ Preheat the oven to 375 fahrenheit.
~ Wash the apples, then chop them roughly into 1/2" chunks (I never peel apples, and you don't have to, either!)
~ Arrange the chopped apples in a greased, glass casserole dish, then toss with the agave nectar.
~ In a bowl, combine the flour, salt, cinnamon, and brown sugar.
~ Chop or grate the cold margarine into the flour mixture, then rub the whole mess together with your fingers until it resemble coarse crumbs.
~ Sprinkle the crumble mixture evenly over the apples, then bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until the topping is crisp and golden.
~ Serve warm, ideally with lashings of Bird's custard (which is - yes! - vegan), prepared according to package directions.