Blackberry, Peach, and Ginger Crumble
It’s August, and that means it’s blackberry season in the pacific northwest.
The blackberry bushes here are inescapable, weeds even. I pass the thorny plants growing along our neighborhood, behind my school, and against the sidewalks. We had some in our backyard when we first bought the house, until my mother hacked the branches away in a fit of determination. Every year, when I spot the fat berries hanging low on their vines, like clusters of black beads, it feels more like summer than anything.
I’ve been seeing them all month, but I haven’t been craving them… Until a few days ago. I was sitting at the dinner table, thumbing through the pile of cookbooks that live there permanently. It’s my habit when I’m bored. I flip back to the dessert section and try to make myself hungry. That day, I saw a marionberry tart, but for some reason it made me want blackberries.
Because they’re so expensive, I didn’t eat a lot of berries growing up. Even today, in my mind they’re exotic. Raspberries, blueberries, marionberries – they should be reserved for special occasions, like a birthday or celebration. But blackberries are so plentiful here, and so easy to get.
When I was in elementary school, my mom and I liked to visit a park by our old condo. I’d never seen so many blackberry bushes before. They towered high over my head like a maze, and the air between them seemed to buzz with insects and filtered sunlight and the sweetness of sugar. It all came back to me in a rush as I sat there with the cookbook in my hands.
I couldn’t get blackberries out of my mind. When I decide I want something, I just can’t avoid it. I mentioned the berries over and over to my parents. My mom said she remembered where the park was, so after breakfast we headed out. We were nearly there when my dad pulled the car onto a fence-lined stretch of gravel in a rare patch of shade.
“This isn’t the park,” I protested, but he pointed along the side of the road.
“They’re everywhere,” he said, pointing at the blackberry brambles twisting in and out of the barbed wire.
I was doubtful as I opened the trunk and passed out bowls to my parents. This didn’t seem as nostalgic and serene as my memories at the park. Even in the shade we couldn’t escape the hazy swelter of the afternoon sun, like hot breath on our backs. Spiders dangled from leaves and cars sped behind us in a whirr.
We spaced ourselves several meters apart from each other. I reached for the darkest, plumpest berries on the highest vines, straining on my tiptoes and stretching up. As gentle as I tried to be, they burst out of their skins when I dropped them into my bowl. Before long my hands were perfumed with juice, which stained the ridges of my fingerprints purple-red and smelled like August.
The whole way home, I breathed the fragrance in and dreamed of dessert.
And I got it. The blackberries are truly the star of this blackberry, peach, and ginger crumble.
The peaches are really delicious too. I like peaches, but I can’t say that I love them. I don’t think I’ve ever had a perfect peach, or even a really good one. The rest of my family has – every year my grandma wistfully describes fresh peach ice cream and lattice peach pie. Or better – fresh and still sun warmed, eaten off the tree. But me? I’m satisfied to cut them into rough chunks and toss them with berries in a crumble.
And the ginger was almost an afterthought, but such a good one. I loved dicing the crystallized ginger into tiny cubes, because it left big sugar crystals and the sharpness of ginger all over my cutting board. You only get a little in each bite, but you know it when you find it.
The original recipe calls this dessert a crisp, but I substituted some cream cheese into the oat topping. I had some leftover to use up, and the result was delicious. I could taste a subtle tang, and it made the topping a little soft and chewy. I’m not sure what makes a crumble a crumble, but somehow “crisp” didn’t seem right. All I know is that I shamelessly dug into whatever-you-call-it straight out of the pan, hot or chilled, for breakfast or for dessert in the warm twilight.
Blackberry, Peach, and Ginger Crumble
Inspired & Based on 101 Cookbooks
Makes an 8×8″ pan
1 1/2 pounds ripe peaches (about 3 large peaches)
8 oz (about 1 1/2 cups) fresh blackberries
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Zest of a tangerine
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
Cream Cheese Oat Topping
3/4 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Big pinch of salt
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup cream cheese, room temperature
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and place a rack in the center.
Rinse all the fruit. Cut the peaches into bite-sized chunks. I quartered my peaches, and cut each quarter into 4 chunks. Set the blackberries and chopped peaches in a medium bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, orange zest, and chopped ginger. Sprinkle it over the fruit and gently toss to thoroughly combine. Transfer the fruit mixture to an 8×8″ baking pan.
To make the cream cheese oat topping, whisk together the oats, flour, sugar, and ground ginger. Stir in the butter with a fork, then stir in the cream cheese until a coarse, dough-like topping forms. Sprinkle it in chunks over the fruit in the pan.
Bake the crumble for 20-25 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown. I like it hot, warm, and (though my mother can’t believe it) straight from the refrigerator.
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