“You, my darling, are the apple of my eye” means ‘you are cherished above all others’. We use it for our beloved, and our children, mainly. Only when they are being well behaved, though.
The phrase appears first in the Bible. Moses, Zechariah, Deuteronomy…they all bang on about it¹. This appears to be more about the apple being the actual centre of the eye.
The first time it appears in written English is about 885AD, in King Alfred the Great’s writing². Shakespeare talks about it in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1600. It is seen as a little bit quaint these days, but it would still be well received if you said it to someone for whom you have great fondness.
Apple crumble is, for me, the most excellent of desserts. That is, if it’s done properly and has a buttery crunchy topping, gooey fruity stuff underneath, and is all covered in proper egg custard.
The crumble first appeared around the time of World War II when it meant you could save some your rations of butter, flour and sugar, by not having to make a full pastry. They could make it even more frugal by swapping some of the flour for oats, and this is the version I still prefer. (Plus, then you can pretend it is healthier for you).
To undo any health benefits of the oaty crumble, you must serve it with custard, and a proper egg custard if you can. We normally just opt for vanilla these days, but dear old Mrs Beeton liked hers with some nutmeg and a tablespoon of brandy. [Hmm, I’ll bet she did].
Crumble is not to be confused with cobbler, which is American in origin. In a cobbler, the topping is lumped together in dollops, rather than crumbled over, so that the dollops look like cobble stones.
If we had written the post about fruit cobbler, however, we could have used the phrase ‘a load of cobblers‘ to illustrate it. Cobblers is a brilliant word. It is cockney rhyming slang, from ‘cobblers awls’ (the tool that cobblers use) to mean, well, gentlemen’s parts. The phrase ‘cobblers’, however, isn’t seen as rude, so you can just say that something is ‘cobblers’ without fear of offending anyone. We use it A LOT.
Crumble may not seem that romantic, but bear with us. In the UK, you can see tins of Bird’s custard on the shelves of any supermarket. This is a custard powder, so not ‘real’ (egg) custard, but a good choice if you don’t have time to stand and stir. It was invented by Alfred Bird in his chemist shop in Swansea in 1837, whose wife absolutely loved crumble and custard. However, she was allergic to eggs, so could not indulge. Dear old Alfred he invented an egg-less instant custard powder so she could still enjoy it after her Sunday roast.
Now, that is real love.
APPLE AND BLACKBERRY CRUMBLE, AND (PROPER) CUSTARD
FOR THE CRUMBLE
- 75g hazelnut kernels
- 50g porridge oats
- 125g plain flour
- 80g demerara sugar
- 90g butter
- small pinch salt
- 800g – 1 kg cooking apples such as Bramley (you need 500g prepared weight)
- juice of ½ lemon
- 300g blackberries
- 3 tbsp Clear Honey
- Baking dish – 4cm deep and about 20 x 25 cm
FOR THE CUSTARD
- 575ml whole milk
- 1 vanilla pod, split in half and seeds scraped out
- 6 egg yolks
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- Preheat the oven to 170c/Gas 5.
- For the crumble topping, tip the hazelnuts and oats into a food processor and blitz until coarsely ground. Add the flour, sugar, butter and salt and pulse the processor until you have a mixture that looks like breadcrumbs.
- For the fruit filling, peel, core and cut the apple into chunks (you need 500g of chunks). Put them in the baking dish and toss with the lemon juice. Add the blackberries and drizzle honey over.
- Scatter the crumble topping over the fruit, but don’t pack it down. It shouldn’t form a solid lump. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of water.
- Put the dish on a baking tray and bake in the centre of the oven for about 40-45 minutes, or until lightly golden brown on top and the fruity bit is bubbling away around the sides.
- Take out of the oven and allow to cool while you make the custard. Please don’t be tempted to try it at this stage. The fruit will be hotter than the centre of the earth.
- For the custard, pour the milk into a heavy-bottomed pan with the vanilla pod and seeds, and stir on a gentle heat. Bring the milk to a gentle simmer – don’t let it boil.
- Meanwhile, beat the yolks, sugar and cornflour together in a large heatproof bowl.
- Take the vanilla pod out of the hot milk, and then pour the milk onto the egg and sugar mixture – stir vigorously, so you don’t ‘cook’ the eggs (you don’t want scrambled eggs!)
- Pour the custard into a clean, dry pan. Turn the heat right down, and stir continuously until it coats the back of a wooden spoon. The longer you cook it, the thicker it will get. This will take a little while, 5-10 minutes. Be patient, it is worth it.
- Pour into a jug and serve alongside the crumble.
1 – to bang on about something – to keep talking about something, often long after anyone stopped really listening. You might bang on about a new boyfriend, or how cute your (usually firstborn) baby is, or your personal opinion on politics.
2 – Gregory I. Pope (January 1, 1999). Gregory I. Pope (January 1, 1999). King Alfred’s West-Saxon Version of Gregory’s Pastoral Care. Elibron.com. p. 68.
(c) Kayte & Nicer Kate 2017. Authors assert moral rights