Autumn is here. It’s now dark when we get up in the morning, and we only have a couple of hours of daylight left after work. We’re wearing coats and boots again, watching the leaves slowly fill our gutters, and inching ever closer to lighting our woodburners. We opened the curtains this morning to find curling mist and damp ground. It’s crumble weather.
For today’s crumble filling we first turned to the wonky cooking apple tree in the corner of the orchard. It was bumped into by a clumsy compost delivery lorry in our first year here. Undeterred, it has continued to grow and fruit, albeit at an alarming right angle. It produces enormous apples, that are sharp, sweet and full of juice. They cook down into a pale purée and work beautifully in crumbles. There were plenty of windfalls this morning, so we collected an armful, before the geese beat us to it.
The hedgerows behind the apple tree are looking quietly resplendent with their autumn offerings. Dusky purple sloes. A flash of red dogwood. Thorned branches of wild blackberries. Guelder rose berries, hanging in shimmering clusters. The occasional cobnut. We picked a little bowlful of the blackberries to join the apples in the crumble.
The hedgerows are woven with rosehips too. A few weeks ago, we picked and filled our pockets with some of them. Crushed, boiled and sugared, they made a bottle of rosehip syrup that smells a little like tomato juice, but tastes of fruit and vanilla. We’ve been eating the odd spoonful of it in an attempt to up our vitamin C intake and ward off the arrival of any autumn colds. Today we used it to sweeten the apples in our crumble.
And, in the garden, while most plants are shifting into their October wardrobe of russets, yellows and reds, the rosemary bushes are looking fresh with new evergreen growth. We picked a couple of sprigs to cook on top of the apples and blackberries, so that they could impart a gentle herbaceous note to the pudding.
To accompany the fruit we made a crumble topping spiced heavily with the warmth of cinnamon (we always cook the two separately as this allows the crumble top to turn golden all over and become really crunchy). The subtle, new flavours imparted by the rosehip syrup and rosemary amongst the traditional blackberry and apple combination, worked wonderfully. The result was delicious, rustic and deeply comforting, as crumble should be.
Apple and Blackberry Crumble with Rosemary, Cinnamon and Rosehip
For the Crumble
- 160 g plain white flour
- A pinch of sea salt
- 3 tsp ground cinnamon
- 80 g unsalted butter, cold and diced into small cubes
- 50 g demerera sugar
For the filling
- 1 kg cooking apples
- 100 g wild blackberries
- 6 tbsp rosehip syrup (ideally homemade)
- 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- Vanilla custard
First make the crumble topping. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Sift the flour with the salt and ground cinnamon into a large bowl. Rub the butter into the flour mixture until it looks like breadcrumbs. Stir in the demerera sugar. Use your hands to lift, squeeze together, and ruffle the mixture through your fingers a few times to encourage some slightly larger clumps to form amongst the biscuity rubble. Empty the bowl onto a baking tray, spread out evenly, and pop in the oven for about 35 minutes, checking and stirring halfway through (at which point the mixture will clump together a little more and form some larger pieces), until dark, golden brown. If any of the edges catch and burn, remove them with a spoon and discard, as they will make the topping very bitter if left to be stirred in. Leave to cool, stirring occasionally. It will crisp up a little more as the temperature decreases.
Meanwhile, peel and dice the apples into centimetre cubes and tumble into an ovenproof dish along with the blackberries. Spoon over the rosehip syrup and place the rosemary sprigs on top. Cover with tin foil or an ovenproof lid and put in the oven for around 30 minutes (stirring part way through – lift and replace the rosemary sprigs when you do this so that the leaves don't break off and get mixed in with the fruit) until the apples have cooked down to a soft purée and the blackberries have bled their juice, brightening the fruit to purple. Once out of the oven, discard the rosemary sprigs. Check the sweetness at this point and if the mixture is too sharp, stir in a little more rosehip syrup. We find it's best left with plenty of tang to balance the sweetness of the crumble topping and custard.
Once the crumble topping has cooled and crisped up, scatter it evenly over the top of the warm fruit until it is completely covered. Serve warm, spooned into deep bowls, with a generous pouring of vanilla custard (we like our custard cold, to contrast with the heat from the crumble).