Sunday, June 14, 2020

Fruit Crisp: or, Turning those expiring fruits into desserts

Today, we at A Book of Cookrye present another entry in our ongoing intermittent series of avoiding waste! There's a plague on, and groceries are more scarce than ever. Even if your grocery store looks normal and plentiful again, you've doubtless noticed faint dizzy spells when paying for what used to be affordable. We posted the following line to our friends online:
If you often don't eat berries fast enough to keep them from expiring, keep them out on the refrigerator shelf instead of in the fruit drawer. They will dry out rather than go moldy. So instead of discarding them, you can stir them into pancakes, muffins, and cakes. Once they're baked, you can't tell they ever got a bit pruny.
In a previous lifetime, people might have commented with things like "Ewww" or "You're still eating those?" or "Why don't you just throw them away?" But in these times, we got comments like "Making note for future reference." No one was grossed out at the thought of eating blueberries that have hardened nearly to rocks in the refrigerator. (By the way, this really works. Keeping your berries out on the counter or in the fruit drawer of your refrigerator will make the uneaten ones go moldy. But the air in the main part of your refrigerator will dry them out instead. Also, your berries won't start looking dried until at least the time when they would have expired anyway.)
I'm not going to say that it's more important than ever not to waste food. It's just more obvious now that it's either more expensive or out of stock. We all know how I feel about wasting food:

Even in times of plenty, wasting food is taking all the farm labor, all the fuel used for farming equipment, all the fertilizer (whether it was used for your produce or for the animal feed that went into your meat), all the energy used for refrigerated shipping, all the expense and resources of packaging... and literally throwing it away.
Anyway, today we found some moldy raspberries that got mistakenly put in the fruit drawer. Half of them had gone moldy, and the others had only hours before they too were expired. And so, we are going to make fruit crisp! This is a wonderful way to use up absolutely any fruit that is getting too old to eat. A lot of us forget that fruit pies and cobblers and crisps used to be very popular ways to make something delicious out of fruit that looked ready for the trash. Do you have apples that are wrinkled on the outside and are brown when you cut them open? Do you have mushy berries? Wrinkled, shrinking grapes? Plums turning into prunes? By the time you bake them, you'll never know that they were looking sad and drippy.
Fruit crisp also is easy to make in any size you like. You can easily make a small fruit crisp if you want nice treat just for yourself, or (if you have a lot of old fruit on hand or the store had a lot of wrinkly, pruny fruits on clearance) make a big one just as easily.
Using those sugar packets that come with your to-go orders (because of course you would never just pinch it from restaurants as you leave) is a wonderful way to reduce how much sugar you must use from your baking pantry now that sacks of it are getting scarce.

And now we sweeten the fruit! Add sugar to taste. As this is not cake-making, we needn't worry about one mis-measurement leading to disaster. If you have no idea how much sugar "to taste" is for you, start with one tablespoon per cup of fruit.
The next step is to take the fruit, cut it open so the sugar can permeate it, and let it soak in the sugar and any spices you'd like to add. This step is totally optional, though I find it helps the flavor of very expired fruit. If you will be baking this in a pan instead of folding one yourself out of foil, you can just do this in the pan and forget about getting out a container which will later need washing. (We do not recommend letting the fruit soak in a homemade pan of folded foil- there will be tiny pinholes that the juice will leak through. This drip-through isn't a problem in baking because the juice quickly cooks until too thick to go through.)

These particular raspberries may look fresh and delightful in the photo, but that's because I already picked out the ones with gray fur. Many of them were moldy only on one side, so in the name of avoiding waste we discarded the bad side and figured that we're baking them which will deal with anything we missed. They were also so mushy that the container looked like this after just a quick shake.

If you look in the above photo, you will also see some dark wrinkly things. Those are dried blueberries. We didn't purchase them dried, we just remembered to avoid putting them in the drawer. They sat out in the refrigerator, and so the uneaten ones turned into those raisin-looking things instead of becoming too moldy to eat.

As you can see, the blueberries are already re-plumping in the juice that has exuded from the raspberries. Even if you don't let the berries marinate, the more dried-out fruit will quite indistinguishable from the fresh after things get boiling hot in the oven. Also, if you have a large stash of those raw sugar packets from coffee shops you've never used in anything, this is a great time to get them out and use them up. It will help stretch out your pantry now that flour and sugar have to be rationed in many stores. Raw sugar may be too gravelly to use in cakes and cookies (unless you want to sand your teeth off), but it will dissolve into the fruit juices and also add a nice extra flavor.
Anyway, let's move on to making the topping. You start with a knob of butter (or margarine) and about 1-and-a-half times as much sugar. It can be brown or white, depending on what's at hand.
This wasn't quite enough brown sugar, so pretend that we have about one and a half times as much in the bowl. Also, yes we are reusing the container the berries were in. Every dish you get out is a dish you must wash.

Now just mix the two together. It should be nice and creamy.

Now add enough flour to make it crumbly and little bit dry. We're using whole-wheat flour to make ourselves feel a little bit better about whether dessert is good for you. It also adds a nice extra flavor that always goes well with the fruit underneath. You can also add whatever spices you like. We added a lot of cinnamon to this, which is why it suddenly turns dark brown in future pictures.

As you can see, it's a bit dry. This is on purpose; the boiling fruit juice will soak into it. If it starts out a bit dry, it'll stay nice and crusty instead of going too soft.

At this point, you can add whatever chopped nuts or other things you like on top of the fruit. We dumped in a handful of oatmeal. Keep in mind that whatever you use will probably still be crunchy afterward unless you're using fruit that has a lot of juices in it.

And now, with a quick bit of mixing, the topping is ready! The really nice thing about making a topping like this is you don't even need to get out a spoon. You can just use your fingertips.
And now, just look at how perfectly crumbly it is, which makes it so easy to sprinkle onto the fruit.

Obviously we want a lot more tasty topping than that, but this is just to show you about how crumbly it should be when you make it. But be sure you don't put too thick a layer of topping, or else the very upper surface will go dry as sand. If you keep the topping thin, the steam from the bubbling fruit will keep things nice and moist. If you like to have a lot of topping with your fruit, use a big enough pan that the fruit is spread out a bit thin. That way there's a lot of tasty crust with every bite of fruit.

And here we see the happy result!

I'm not going to lie, I'd have made this regardless of whether I'm skimping on groceries or not. It's easy and delicious.

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