Sometimes I like to ponder what I would eat for my last meal on Earth. Where I would eat it. Who I would eat it with. I’m not sure why it is that I am so drawn to such trivial questions as these, but somehow they seem important to consider. As though finding the answer will allow me some deeper glimpse into the depths of my existence. Will allow me to understand something important about my life.
I haven’t finalized all the details, but I will tell you what I have decided on thus far. I think it will have to be in the fall, because the autumn has that sort of drawing in sensation full of warmth and comfort that I like the best of all the seasons. It will be on a lonely hilltop somewhere where the heather grows thick and the sheep roam round, with the views of rolling hillsides and sweet villages tucked away into valleys below giving one the sensation of standing on top of the world.
It would be in the evening, just as the sunlight begins to fade, on one of those autumns nights when there is a crispness to the air but the sunlight still holds the warmth of summer days. And there will be the slightest of breezes that makes everyone draw just a little closer together and pull their sweaters a bit tighter round their shoulders when it blows.
There will be a fire that will crackle and sputter and throw light and warmth all around as the twilight settles in, and there will be a long worn table with benches where I would gather all of my favorite people together. All along the table there will be jugs of warm spiced wine and cider, ladled into mugs that will warm cold hands and bowls full of knobbly apples with weathered and crimson skin and fresh walnuts for cracking. There will be candles lit as the light fades, so that the glowing, flickering light will catch the contours of my most beloved faces and make their eyes sparkle.
And though I haven’t worked out what we will eat for dinner yet, I can tell you for sure that there will be a crumble for desert. Because there is nothing, in my mind – no cake, or mouse or tart – that is as full of love and warmth and all of the good things in life – as a crumble. It is not a fancy dish, I will give you that. It isn’t hard to make or full of rare and expensive things, it won’t make people gasp at its beauty or marvel at its presentation. But that’s why I love it. It’s simple and humble and wholesome, pared down to what is important really. And it will make people happy. It will make people feel all those sensations of warmth and simple comfort and love in their bellies that is what coming together to share a meal is all about. And that cannot be improved upon.
We made just such a crumble the other night with the first rhubarb harvested from the garden and some bruised Macintosh apples that were knocking about, and as I pulled it from the oven with the sticky juices oozing and bubbling up the sides and the deeply satisfying aromas of toasted oats, caramelized sugar and ginger rising up to meet me, I think I understood what it is about the crumble that makes me love it so much. There is a sort of stickiness, a messiness, a gooeyness – that magical place where a piece of fruit adheres to the side of a pan and the sugars transform to caramel and toffee – that beloved place where the fruit bubbles up over the side of the dish and runs down – that characterizes something homemade, something just pulled from the oven and made with hands you know and love. You can’t get that in a restaurant. It’s the flavor of home.
An Apple and Rhubarb Crumble with Ginger
It’s a wonderful time, isn’t it, when the last of the apples are running out and the first of the rhubarb is appearing and they have that brief chance to marry and mingle in our kitchens. This crumble celebrates that union with a kiss of ginger to warm a cold spring night. The crumble is gluten-free.
For the fruit:
- 4 cups chopped rhubarb
- 3 large Macintosh apples, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1-2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/4 cup organic cane sugar
- the zest of 1 orange
For the crumble:
- 1 cup almond meal
- 1/2 cup muscovado sugar
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons butter, diced, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and butter a 9 X 9 baking dish.
In a large bowl, combine the fruit with the sugar, ginger, lemon and orange zest. Let rest for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the almond meal, oats, sugar, salt and walnuts into a bowl. Work the butter in using your fingertips until you have coarse crumbles (with no crumble bigger than a pea).
Place the fruit into the baking dish and sprinkle the crumble over the top of the fruit. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling up the sides and the top is golden (note: the top won’t feel crispy when you take it out of the oven, but will crisp up after it sits for a minute or so). Remove from the oven and let cool slightly, then serve with a dollop of crème fraîche or a little fresh cream.