Slumps, Grunts, Crisps & Buckles
Memories of summer sweetened by old-fashioned fruit desserts
I grew up spending summers in Southwest Michigan, riding my bicycle many mornings a mile down the road to my grandparents’ small farm where I was often conscripted into picking the fruit that my grandfather grew. He lovingly tended the rhubarb, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, plums and apples that my grandmother made into pies and desserts with funny names.
Many of these fruit desserts have roots in America’s history, mentioned in cookbooks from colonial times. Early East Coast and Southern cooks relied on local fruits to imaginatively feed their families well, inexpensively and to use up the crops before they spoiled. These desserts spread to the Midwest as the settlers moved west and north, and names may have changed during that migration. Variations on these recipes are almost endless—limited only by the cook’s imagination.
Buckles: How did it get its name? So good you need to loosen your belt buckle after eating? Or is it the way the topping buckles as it bakes? Cooks debate this and there are as many stories about the name as there are variations. Buckles are usually baked and combine a cake-like layer with berries either mixed in or piled on top, with a crispy crumble mixture of flour, sugar and butter on top. Delicious hot or cold; I have been known to have leftover fruit buckle for breakfast with a glass of milk.
Crisps and Crumbles: Both are fruit-based desserts with a topping of flour, butter and sugar and, sometimes, nuts. Traditionally, crisps also include oats while crumbles do not. Either one is a quick and easy summer dessert. Baked, they are often topped with ice cream or whipped cream. The crunch of the topping is a nice contrast with cold ice cream and warm fruit.
Grunts: A traditional dessert from the East Coast and Canada, there are recipes for grunts in colonial cookbooks. Combining fruit with a batter on top, the batter cooks by steam, often in a pan on the stovetop, resulting in a biscuit-like topping. It can then be finished or browned in the oven. The term “grunt” is supposed to refer to the sound that the berries make when they cook. Most of the grunts I have had use berries, but you can also use plums or peaches.
Slumps: Slumps are commonly thought of as Southern grunts, with a batter on top that steam cooks in a pan. Both grunts and slumps are delicious hot or cold, and are often served topped with ice cream or whipped cream.