Elliott and I held hands as we walked back to the picnic table. This is one of my favorite places in the world: my nephew beside me, his small hand in mine, my family and the Chef waiting at the other end. Elliott and I talked about the treehouse, the bubbles he had been blowing, the silly sound of giggles as he sat beneath the table, begging for us to drop our keys down the hole in the wood. We had been playing all afternoon together, this nephew of mine and his new uncle. (By marriage, maybe, but by action the Chef has been his uncle for over a year.)
It was time for lunch.
“We’re having roasted chicken,” I told him. “And your uncle has made a tomato-cucumber salad.” I knew he would probably not eat the salad, with the julienned vegetables and the champagne vinaigrette. He would only touch the chicken if I cut it into tiny cubes for him. He is only four. But I wanted him to hear the names of what we were about to enjoy. “Food” is just too general. No one remembers “food.” We remember meals.
He listened, seriously, and then tugged at my hand. When I looked down at him, I saw his smile at the bottom of my arm. “Will there be blueberry crisp?” he asked me, his face animated.
I grinned. He remembered the day before the wedding, weeks before.
During the barbeque the Chef and I threw for our families and closest friends, Sharon and I ducked into the kitchen. With blueberries the Chef’s sisters had picked up at the farmers’ market, and apricots from the Market, we hunched close together and made two crumbles. The Chef’s mother came in to check on us. “You two girls need to sit down,” she said, worried that we were not yet relaxed.
But nothing relaxes me like baking. I love the people who were filling our backyard. I looked forward — with eager edges of anticipation — to the day that was to follow, the one we had been planning for months. But with my hands covered in butter, blueberries warmly bubbling in the pan beneath me, and the smell of sugar wafting to my nose, I am at peace in the world.
When Sharon and I pulled the crumbles from the oven — the dark juices of the blueberries threatening to escape the pan, the topping as brown as our sun-warmed skin — we felt triumphant. Like two conquering heroes returning from the berry wars, she and I marched out to the garden, and lay down our trophies.
Even though there had been barbequed hamburgers, and ribs soaked in sweet-salty sauce, homemade dill pickles, potato chips galore, a crisp green salad, plus beer and wine and laughter — everyone found room for crumble.
No one commented on the fact it was entirely gluten-free. It was just blueberry-apricot crumble.
Half an hour after I had pulled the crumble from the oven, I saw Elliott sitting at the picnic table, with Cooper by his side. Their pale faces were stained purple-blue happy, with smudges at the lips that lengthened their smiles. When I walked by, Elliott looked up at me, quite directly, and said, “This blueberry crisp is good, Shauna. It’s the best I ever eaten.”
Cooper nodded too, quick to agree with his new friend.
That is, without a doubt, one of my favorite moments of the entire weekend.
And so, when Elliott wondered if we were going to be eating blueberry crisp, I realized that the moment I so fondly remember is a memory in his mind too. He’s only four, but he’s a real person now. We have entire conversations, not just smooshy noises on his belly and silly sounds at the top of my voice. We still sniff — he wanted to smell the rosemary and thyme planted in the large pots in our yard — but now we talk about the smells, and where they reside in his mind. They remind him of other smells, and he tells me. He is, without a doubt, fully here now.
I looked down at him, holding my hand, and said, “Oh sorry, sweetie. We don’t have blueberry crisp today. It’s my birthday. We’re having chocolate cake and roasted peaches.”
His grin grew bigger. “Oh good!” he said. What little boy turns down chocolate cake? And what did it matter to him that it was gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, and soy-free? It tasted like dark chocolate, nothing more. “This is good cake,” he said with his mouth full of crumbs. I’d recommend it to anyone, but I have a feeling that cake was best eaten in the open air, surrounded by family. Afterwards, there were more bubbles to blow, apples to throw, and a swing to sway in, with the help of his uncle.
But next time Elliott is in our backyard, I’ll make sure there is warm blueberry crumble, for him, and for the memory.
Apricot and blueberry crumble, inspired by David Lebovitz and Shuna Fish Lydon
What’s a crisp and what’s a crumble? It sounds like the start of a nursery rhyme, in some way. But for me, the answer is — not much. Perhaps a crumble has a bit more butter, a softer bite. A crumble is like nursery food: comforting in summer, and even better when you need a little something to liven up the day.
My crisps and crumbles both improved when I read David Lebovitz’s recipe, which calls for cornmeal. Somehow, this ingredient had never occurred to me. But he’s right. That lovely stuff that can become polenta also adds a crunch and cohesiveness that I never would have expected in a crumble, particularly a gluten-free one. I’ll never make one without some, now. And of course, just knowing that Shuna had made a gluten-free crisp for our wedding made me want to go back and work on my recipe.
This lovely dessert fumbles softly in the mouth. When it’s first out of the oven, this crumble melts and tumbles, one bite butter, another brown sugar. It’s heavenly with homemade vanilla ice cream — believe me. Wake up in the morning, and pull the pan out of the refrigerator. Scoop some into your favorite bowl, pour yourself a hot cup of coffee, and sigh into the topping. If you can eat this on the glider, with your love beside you, that morning can be nothing but fine.
Crisp or crumble? Call it you want. Elliott calls this good.
1 pint blueberries
2 cups apricots, pits removed and cut into quarters
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons tapioca flour
¼ cup demerara sugar
½ cup almond flour
½ cup quinoa flakes
½ cup sorghum flour (if you don’t like sorghum, try brown rice flour)
½ cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
¾ cup tightly packed brown sugar
1 cup butter, frozen, for perhaps an hour before you begin
Preheating the oven. Turn your oven onto 375°.
Preparing the filling. Jumble the blueberries and apricots in a large bowl. Sprinkle the lemon juice and vanilla extract over them and toss. Coat the fruit with the tapioca flour, until the mix feels a little pasty. Toss in the sugar and stir well.
Baking the filling. Pour the prepared filling into a buttered pan. (I like a shallow casserole dish, but you could just as easily use a 9-inch pie pan. Just be sure you have an inch of room, at least, after you have poured in the filling.) Put it into the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the fruit is fork-tender and the juices are beginning to run.
Preparing the topping. As the fruit is baking, put together the crumble topping. (You can also prepare double batches of this and store them in the refrigerator, which allows you to make crumble any time of the day you wish.) Combine the almond flour, quinoa flakes, sorghum flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Sift them into another bowl. Add the brown sugar and stir well.
Take the butter out of the freezer. With your microplaner or box grater, grate the frozen butter into the flours and sugar. The butter has to be frozen for this to work. This will make the pieces of butter small and easy to combine with the flours.
Work the small pieces of butter into the flours with a pastry cutter or fork. When the topping feels well mixed— but not one big mass — you are done.
Baking the crumble. When the fruit has baked sufficiently, pull the baking dish out of the oven. Spoon the crumble on top of the fruit, making sure to cover it all. Slide the dish back into the oven.
Bake for an additional fifteen minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling juicily, and the topping has browned nicely.
Let the crumble cool for at least fifteen minutes before eating it. (Go on. Try.)