Crisp and Unclear

    We had apples at our house.  There were other fruits, though not as many as you may suspect, as this was back in the last century and no one had invented Star Fruit or Kiwi or such other modern contraptions.  My father had half a grapefruit with his breakfast, we ate enough bananas that our potassium levels must have been very healthy (though I don’t believe potassium was invented until I was in high school), and there were frequently oranges.  There was also canned fruit and even boxed fruit (raisins, mainly).  But there seem always to have been apples.

    We ate these as they came, often right off the tree (the man who built our house also planted an apple tree we had experimented with over the years, grafting on bits of other trees until it produced seven different varieties of apple.)  We also ate them in apple salad (Waldorf salad to you city types), apple pie, and apple crisp.  She never produced Apple Brown betty or Apple Pan Dowdy.  NOBODY in our neighborhood made either of those exotic dishes (we were a land of culinary conservatives, where my mother was considered a little suspect for putting cinnamon in her apple pie/  Fortunately, someone moved to town who used nutmeg, and the burden of stigma shifted to that innovator.)

    So when dealing with a number of postcards dealing with apples, I was moved to investigate these two strange and wonderful dishes and, because my life is not difficult enough, I looked around to find out the difference between apple cobbler and apple crisp.

    America’s interest in Apple Pan Dowdy arose in 1946, when Dinah Shore recorded the song “Soo-Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy”, both of which dishes are associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch (who, like the Dutch children on vintage postcards, were originally German.)  the Interwebs experts do not exactly agree on what Apple pan Dowdy IS (and you can get into a fine fuss over whether it should be spelled Apple Pandowdy.)  Some make it as a sort of apple cobbler, while others produce an apple crisp.

    Apple cobbler seems to be the oldest of these recipes, produced, according to the Interwebs, by English colonists who were homesick for the puddings of their youth but unable to get all the ingredients or cook them the way they wanted on makeshift fires.  So they stewed up apples and sugar and put a biscuit type of crust on top.  Some, not all, of the writers go on to say this biscuit dough must be dropped onto the apples in circular globs, resulting in a top that looks like a cobblestone road.  Over the years, some people added a crust on the bottom, to, produced a sort of open-sided pie.

    Then came Apple Crumble.  Some of these recipes started to be called Apple Crisp around the era of World War I, but Apple Crumble came first.  I was informed by one online writer, with some severity, that if the crumbled topping (or streusel topping) on your apples contains nuts, it MUST be called Apple Crumble, though not all Apple Crumble recipes involve nuts.  But Apple Crisp NEVER does.

    If that streusel topping is primarily made of crumbled bread, particularly wheat bread, then what you are making is Apple brown Betty.  Some Apple Brown Betty recipes involve pouring boiling apple cider or boiling syrup over the apples before adding the streusel topping, but this also depends on how you were brought up  Apple dessert recipes are not as strict as, say, pizza, where a Chicago Pizza is not a New York Pizza is not a New Haven Pizza, etc.

     I was going to tell the story about an aunt of mine who was so suntanned when she started Kindergarten that the other kids called her Betty (for Apple brown Betty).  She told me with some satisfaction that “They only did THAT for one day.)  But I am running out of room, and I never did discuss the actual apple postcards (since this is a blog mainly about postcards.)  I will simply add that my mother’s recipe for Apple Crisp is as traditional as you please, coming from The Joy of Cooking, one of three or four cookbooks which MADE American cuisine in the twentieth century.  Um, if you look for it, you’ll need to look under Fruit Paradise, since the topping can be applied to any fruit you have handy (and is very good even on something like canned fruit cocktail, about which I feel I am going to have to consult the Interwebs again.  Stay tuned.)

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