The origins of a classic British pudding: apple crumble

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The apple crumble needs no introduction. As the days shorten, it is the pudding our hearts yearn for. Sweet, stewed apples, topped off in a deep dish with sugar-heavy crumble and just a little more sugar sprinkled on top for good measure. It is a very British dish, as anyone who has tried the American version will agree. Perhaps it is the British cooking apples, the precision of the airtight crust or the history that we still appreciate; perhaps it is a combination of all three. To enjoy it to the max, don’t forget the accompaniment!

Royal connections

Apple crumble first made itself known in a British Food Recipes cookbook from the 1920s. Mrs Beeton’s simple recipe, which included lemon rind in the apples and ginger in the crumble, was a personal favourite of Queen Victoria. She ate it dry, without any cream, and frowned upon guests at her table who reached for the jug; today, most people like a little something to go with it.

A wartime hit

The Beeton recipe, which instructs the reader to rub in the butter or margarine until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, was perfectly worded for rationing. Butter was lacking and pastry made with margarine would fall apart. Fruit grown at home was outside rationing, so the humble apple tree became a national hero. With sugar rationed, a sprinkling on top was a great way to add sweetness.

For those who could not get their hands on flour, the breadcrumb-textured topping could simply be substituted with breadcrumbs and oats. Thickly-mixed dried milk was also used in lieu of cream.

The modern favourite

The rich history of our favourite dishes is a hot topic on resources such as the Food-tales online food recipe website alongside our changing tastes and preferences. While apple crumble is still a firm favourite today, how we eat the pudding has changed dramatically.

In the 80s and 90s, vanilla ice cream was the side of choice for a hot apple pie; however, more and more people now eat cold apple crumble on the go out of an individual serving pot. There is also a growing trend to serve apple crumble as a flapjack-style slice that can be eaten using your fingers, and don’t forget to order your apple crumble muffin with your cappuccino.