“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” William Shakespeare once said. If that’s true, would the same logic work for a delicious fruit filled pie if it were called a grunt, a crow’s nest pudding, a buckle or a slump?
The pie, or “pye,” has been around since 2nd century B.C., when a Roman housewife came up with the idea of sealing meat inside a flour and oil paste and baked it. The concept of the pie expanded through the centuries to include fruit. Early settlers of America, eager to use their favorite recipes from home, were masters at improvising when they couldn’t find ingredients, even using primitive equipment on open hearths. Steamed bread pudding, for example, became a baked Apple Brown Betty. Early colonists were so fond of these juicy dishes that they often served them as the main course, for breakfast, or even as a first course. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that fruit laden pie-like dishes became primarily desserts.
Today, adaptations of the pie have emerged from regions: crumble, cobbler, crisp, Brown Betty, tart, torte, pandowdy, grunt, slump, buckles, croustade, bird’s nest pudding. The origin of the names is based, more or less, on the placement of the dough. In New England, fruit cobbler is baked in a baking dish or frying pan, with several lumps of biscuit or scone dough dropped on top. Other regions place the dough on the bottom and cover it with fruit. Wherever the dough happens to be place, these pie-like desserts are based on whatever fresh ingredients are in your kitchen, ready to be used. They’re meant to be humble and homemade, relying more on taste than fancy pastry preparation. My kind of pie!
Crisps, crumbles and their pie-ish cousins have the comforting taste of a made-from-scratch dessert, filled with seasonal fruit and berries, finished off with a golden-brown topping. Best of all, they don’t take much prep work. The magic happens in the oven while you tend to more pressing matters, like enjoying a lovely summer evening.
How to tell a crisp from a crumble and a slump from a sonker:
Cobbler – An American deep-dish fruit dessert or pie with a thick biscuit and a fruit filling such as peaches, apples, berries. Some versions are enclosed in the crust, while others have a drop-biscuit or crumb topping.
Crisps and Crumbles – A bottom layer of fruit (or a mixture of fruits) baked with a crumb topping. Crumb topping can be made with flour, butter, nuts, oats, cookie or graham cracker crumbs.
Betty or Brown Betty– Consists of a fruit, most commonly apples, baked between layers of buttered crumbs. Betty was a popular baked pudding made during colonial times in America.
Grunts or Slump – An adaptation of the English steamed pudding that used fruit and dumplings. Massachusetts’ colonists called it a “grunt” because that was the sound the berries made as they stewed on the top of a stove. In Vermont, Maine, and Rhode Island, the dessert is called a slump.
Buckle or Crumble– A type of cake made in a single layer with blueberries added to the batter. The topping is similar to a streusel, which gives it a buckled or crumpled appearance.
Pandowdy– A deep-dish dessert most commonly made with apples sweetened with molasses or brown sugar. Topping is a crumbly type of biscuit. The crust is broken up during baking and pushed down into the fruit to allow the juices to come through. Exact origin of the name Pandowdy is unknown but is thought to refer to the dessert’s dowdy appearance.
Bird’s Nest Pudding or Crow’s Nest Pudding – Apples whose cores have been replaced by sugar. The apples are nestled in a bowl created by the crust.
Sonker – A Southern deep-dish pie or cobbler served in many flavors including strawberry, peach, sweet potato, and cherry.
Here’s a favorite family recipe of mine, shared by my aunt who lives in Pennsylvania:
Aunt Nancy’s Blueberry Buckle
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¼ cup soft shortening
- 1 egg
- ½ cup milk
- 2 cups sifted flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen (if canned, drain them first)
Crumb topping: (Blend together with fingers)
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup flour
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ cup soft butter
Preheat oven 375 degrees. Mix sugar and shortening and egg. Stir in milk. Sift together and stir in flour, baking powder and salt. Blend in berries. Grease and flour 9” square pan. Bake 45-50 minutes at 375 degrees. Put on topping before baking.
Suzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling author of Anna’s Crossing, The Letters, The Calling, the Lancaster County Secrets series, and the Stoney Ridge Seasons series, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace. Suzanne is a Carol Award winner for The Search, a Carol Award finalist for The Choice, and a Christy Award finalist for The Waiting. She is the host of the Amish Wisdom blog, as well as a columnist for Christian Post and Cooking & Such magazines. She also offers readers a free downloadable app, Amish Wisdom, that delivers a daily Penn Dutch proverb. She lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Purchase Suzanne’s books here.