Because when your grandmother goes rogue, you have complete license to follow suit.
Every family has recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. And by recipes, I mean scratchings on the back of a cocktail napkin, vague instructions passed down verbally (that seem to change just slightly with every iteration) and faded, grease-stained cookbooks, with certain pages in particular that reflect the smeared and fingerprinted popularity of a treasured dish.
As memories blur, tastes change and scribbles fade, the passing-down of recipes becomes a bit of a game of Chinese Whispers, and what once may have been the Arnoldi family's recipe for its world famous apple crumble (in some, very discerning parts, anyway), has become whatever version of said crumble our 94-year-old grandmother choses to remember.
Jean Arnoldi, the matriarch of my mother's side of the family, is a woman of great strength, intelligence, wit and perseverance. Jean Arnoldi is also a woman who is never wrong. (I'm pretty sure that trait was passed down to all the women of the family, along with an appreciation for dark chocolate and deeply disturbing television thrillers.)
My grandmother refuses to age and thank goodness for that. She climbs stepladders to hang Christmas ornaments (despite the fact that she can barely see or balance), sticks her head in the pot to make sure the water is boiling (I mean, I just can't) and insists that apple crumble was always, always made with an oat topping. On this final point, I can assure you, it was not.
Crumble has been my family's go-to dessert since I can remember. It's simple, quick and always delicious – it's the dessert that wins you major points, with barely any effort. It featured prominently at the end of a many-a-weekend meal, summer beach picnics, and the occasional, particularly grizzly school night, when a little something extra was required.
And crumble was always made with flour, butter, sugar, a pinch of salt and apples. That's it. No more, no less, and certainly no oats. But at some point, during the last 10 years, granny started throwing oats into the mix. No big deal, right? I mean, it's apple crumble – as long as it's delicious, who cares? It's just that our stubborn grandmother insists it was always made that way. It's like the scribbled-on cocktail napkin was lost – like the torn notebook page had been misplaced. And there's no use arguing, because even when my granny seems to concede, she waits til you turn away, before mouthing the words 'you're wrong of course, darling' under her breath. Infuriating? Yes. But wonderful at the same time. I'm convinced that a nature so stubborn pushes you forward. It pushed her through her time as a nurse during the war, through raising five children, through being the devoted wife of a brilliant (and very busy) doctor, and through the almost 21 years alone, since his passing.
So, if my granny wants to believe (whole-heartedly) that apple crumble was always made with oats, well then the rest of us will respect our elder and take her word for it! (Until she turns away, and we collectively whisper 'you're wrong of course, darling' under our breaths.)
Having flown the nest long ago, and realized that, apparently, nothing is sacred, I've started making my own memory-lapsed versions of this family classic. I figure, as long as I call it crumble, think of my grandmother when I make it, and throw at least four of the primary ingredients in, I'm not going any more rogue than granny did.
So, this week, I incorporated a snack that I've absolutely fallen for. It's called Gigi's Remix, and it's ridiculously delicious. Somewhere between granola and trail mix, this crunchy, sweet and wholesome blend of sprouted nuts, goji berries, cacao nibs and coconut flakes, among other things, is as crave-worthy as it is healthful. When you read through the list of ingredients clearly printed on the front of the packet, you find yourself turning the bag to look for additional items, perhaps sneakily listed on its back side. It can't possibly be this good, and not have at least one thing I can't pronounce hidden inside it, can it?
Apparently, it can.
This stuff's good as is, in a bowl with any milk you like, and, as I've recently discovered, baked into the non-traditional topping of an ever-evolving apple crumble.
Cue the remix.
For the crumble topping:
For the filling:
Set your oven to 350*F.
Peel, core and chop your apples into bite-sized pieces, then mix them in a bowl with two tablespoons of sugar and the cinnamon. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, Gigi's Remix, sugar and salt, and then cut in the butter in chunks.
Using your hands, incorporate the butter into the flour mixture, until you have a crumbly dough. You want the butter evenly distributed throughout.
Butter a pie dish, add in the apples in a fairly even layer, and crumble the topping over them. You want nice chunks of buttery topping covering all the apples.
Oh, and I also threw on a few pumpkin seeds, because I love 'em, but this was more of an afterthought, rather than part of the recipe.
Bake the crumble for 45 minutes to an hour, until golden on top and bubbling. Then serve it up as is or with a big scoop of soon-to-be-melting, vanilla ice cream on top.
That's my take on it, anyway, and I'm curious to find out how it goes down with the head of the family. Perhaps we're back to an oat-free rendition come Christmas time when I see my lovely granny next, at which point this may be far too revolutionary. But then again, you never know.
I don't think we'll ever win the battle on irresponsible stepladder usage or steam facials not administered by a professional, but at least we still get crumble when we come to visit, even if it's different from what we grew up on.
*Gigi's Remix is primarily sold in California, however you can oder it online from anywhere. You can, of course, and by all means, incorporate your favorite granola instead. Something heavy in nuts, berries and seeds, rather than clusters, works best.
** If you're using a particularly sweet apple, such as Golden Delicious, you can cut the sugar down to ¼ cup – unless you like your desserts on the sweeter side.