Apple crumble for the soul

left: original artwork, right: the tea towel itself (creased, stained and used)
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Autumn has always been my favourite season. The air gets colder and the mornings are crisp and bright. The leaves start to curl up like burning paper, falling to the ground in a kaleidoscope of orange and brown. The blackberries, having grown plump after summer’s end, are nestled like sleeping dormice in the hedgerows, ready to be picked by purple stained fingers. Me and my mum would go on long walks through the Cornish countryside every autumn, slowly making our way along the brambles, me standing on tip-toes in my welly boots to pluck the juiciest looking berries I could find. I’d always eat more than I managed to put in the little basket we brought along to hold our haul, and Mum would tut, scolding “if you eat them all now then there won’t be anything left for the crumble!”.

We would tumble in after these walks, noses red from the cold wind, and immediately do two important things: 1) switch on the oven, and 2) make a cup of tea. I would then run to the garden to pluck some big, firm apples from the tree, and we’d get to work.

Apple and blackberry crumble is how I know I’m home.

Our crumble cannot be beaten. The crumble topping is crafted first, us plunging our still-purple hands into the flour and rubbing our fingers together until the butter and sugar come together; fairy dust. The apples are cooked, briefly – the time is determined by how long we spend dancing around our kitchen to David Bowie. Apple and blackberry bleed together in a big pot, simmering and sparkling pink with cinnamon and brown sugar, nutmeg and a dash of lemon juice. The topping is sprinkled gently over the fruit before plonking the dish into the oven, and then we wait. 

When we pull it out of the oven, the whole kitchen lights up with the smell of days under a blanket, hot chocolate in hand. Our creation is perfect: crunchy and perfectly caramelised on top, the thickness of the topping is exactly right, so that there is a soft, stodgy layer underneath, apples butter-soft and sharp-tasting against the sweetness of the spiced berries.

After a hard day at school, I would walk in and smell that sweet, cinnamon and nutmeg-infused apple, and know it was all going to be okay. When I was feeling sick and had to stay under my duvet, shivering and flushed, mum would clatter around in the kitchen for a while, before knocking on my door to bring in that hot bowl of goodness. Unsaid, we both knew that this was the best possible cure.

I moved out a few years ago now, to cities where there aren’t acres of birdsong-illustrated hedgerows and endless weekends to fill with foraging for treats. Life is busier now, stuffed to the brim with jobs and friends and responsibilities vying for attention like baby birds. I always know, though, that at the end of the train tracks is my little house buried behind green scrub, dotted with delicious comforts. I can always go back, when times get tough, and I’ll be welcomed with the smell of caramelised butter and gently spiced fruit, and a big hug in the doorway. I can always go back to curling up on the sofa listening to Bowie, with a bowl of crumble (hot) and custard (always cold!), and I’ll be home.