Grunt, slump, crisp, crumble, betty, pandowdy, and buckle. All different yet very much the same, these traditional desserts have been a part of the American table since colonial settlers first tried recreating their beloved steamed pudding with local ingredients and ended up with a slump. While the actual name of the dish may vary by region, all share the common elements of fruit and some sort of dough. What changes is the nature of the dough (pie, biscuit, cake), the location of that dough (top or bottom), and the cooking method (stovetop or oven). Still, the end results are surprisingly similar and each can bring a comforting conclusion to any meal.
In Rustic Fruit Desserts, James Beard winner Cory Schreiber, and pastry chef Julie Richardson collaborate to bring these charming and delicious treats to life using the seasonal fruits of the Pacific Northwest. A sturdy hardcover, the book is organized by season, with each section containing a brief summary of in-season fruits and instructions on how to select the highest quality of each. Each season includes a representative sample of each type of dessert, and it quickly becomes clear that almost any fruit will work in any type of dish. Pantry items such as Chantilly cream, basic jam, and short dough follow, as does a resource list for obtaining organic and locally farmed ingredients.
Introductory text by both authors is sensible and instructive, and there are some nice extras included with the recipes. These include a comprehensive chart of baking pan equivalents, strategically placed kitchen hints, and "The Baker's Battery"; a complete list of kitchen tools and ingredients required for successful baking.
The layout is simple and easy to follow, but the small page format (8" x 7") makes many recipes run to two pages in spite of a relatively small font. This can be problematic if you do not have a cookbook stand and tend to mix with your hands as I do. While making a slump, for example, I ended up with almost as much flour in my book as I did in my dough. Fortunately, the final product was so good that I quickly forgave this minor inconvenience.
With regard to the recipes, many are taken from Chef Richardson's artisanal bakery, Baker & Spice, in Portland, Oregon while others are favorites of the authors or author's families. After testing several, a few things quickly became obvious. First, these are recipes that work. Each of the recipes I tried resulted in a final product that looked exactly like the picture, and was both enticing and delicious. Second, these are not quick recipes to prepare. Most require a dozen or more ingredients and several steps, so this book really lends itself more to weekend baking than to a quick use of whatever fruit is on hand. Finally, while the idea of a rustic dessert is a simple one, the recipes themselves result in uniquely complex dishes with regard to both taste and texture. This complexity, in turn, evokes memories of a simpler life in a simpler time and supports the rustic concept.
Overall, Rustic Fruit Desserts is a cookbook best suited to chefs, caterers, and seasoned home cooks. The recipes are well-written and the results are consistently excellent, but the number of ingredients and steps could be intimidating to a baking novice. Still, there is much to be learned by studying these pages carefully, and with a little practice, even a beginning baker could become an expert on grunts, slumps, crisps, crumbles, betties, pandowdies, and buckles.
Recipe: Raspberry Cream Brown Betty