I worked on an article about one of my favorite desserts, the apple crumble. What I mostly found is that it was created during World War II. Most of the website writing about that subject goes in that direction. I talked about that with my sister who tell me that she found a recipe on Reddit from the time of the First World War. I dig a little more after that and found an even older recipe!
Who Invented the Apple Crumble?
So, yes, the British apple crumble was a popular dessert during and after World War II, it was also popular during Victorian times! In fact, I read that it was a personal favorite of Queen Victoria herself. It seems that she liked it without any cream and didn’t appreciate that other people at her table eat it any other way. At least, that’s how the anecdote goes.
The recipe from the Victorian crumble can be found in Mrs. Beeton’s cookery book. If you don’t know Isabella Beeton, she was the wife of Samuel Orchart Beeton, the publisher of The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, launched in 1852. He recruited his wife to work for the publication, first to do a translation of French articles, then to revive the cooking column.
What you need to know about Mrs. Beeton’s work is that during her short lifetime, she never became the greatest cook in England, by far. Despite the success of her work, it was mostly not her work. It was plagiarism or just the publication of recipes her readers sent to her. Nevertheless, she was influential because her writings were really good. She’s also the one who started putting the list of ingredients before the cooking instructions–it was strangely the other way around up until that time.
After her death in 1865 (she was then only 28 years old), her husband met financial difficulties and sold the magazine–and his wife’s name. In fact, those who take over continue to use her name, hiding her death, in order to make a lot of money. This went to the point of making “Mrs. Beeton” a brand name.
I’m writing all of this to make sure that it is understood that the recipe she published was certainly not hers in the first place. But it was in one of her cookbooks from 1896 that the oldest apple crumble recipe has been found–for now, let me know if you have an older one somewhere.
The Apple Crumble World War II Comeback
If it is widely believed that the British apple crumble was created and became popular during World War II, it’s probably because the dessert lost its appeal at some point. But the war brought it back.
Apparently, the Apple crumble recipe which gained momentum at that time was originally published in 1924 in Marguerite Patten‘s “War-time Cookery Book.” The change that was made was the ingredients as they were selected to fit with the rationing of the time.
Apple crumble has changed over time to accommodate different tastes and preferences. A variety of varieties developed, adding grains, nuts, and spices to the crumble mixture. Some recipes even branched out from apples by including pears, blackberries, or rhubarb. The appeal of apple crumble rests apparently in its adaptability and capacity to work with various fruits and flavors.
Nowadays, Apple crumble is still a well-liked dessert option in modern Britain, and it has also spread to other countries, including the United States and Canada, where it is known as apple crisp. The traditional recipe has been altered by chefs and food aficionados using various apple varieties, additional herbs and spices, or novel components like bacon or cheddar cheese (but why?).
How To Make Apple Crumble?
As I was saying, the recipe for the traditional British apple crumble can be readily modified by changing the topping’s ingredients to suit individual tastes. Using mixed berries, pears, or rhubarb instead of apples and playing with extra spices like nutmeg or ginger are a couple of possible modifications.
But here is one of so many recipes available:
Ingredients for your British apple crumble:
For the filling:
- 4 to 6 medium-sized apples (peeled, cored, and sliced)
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- 1/2 cup of granulated sugar (adjust to taste)
- 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
For the crumble topping:
- 1 cup of all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup of unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
- 1/2 cup of brown sugar
- A pinch of salt
- Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C).
- In a bowl, toss the sliced apples with lemon juice to prevent browning. Add granulated sugar and ground cinnamon, and mix until the apples are coated evenly.
- Transfer the apple mixture to a baking dish or a pie dish. Make sure it is evenly spread.
- In a separate bowl, prepare the crumble topping. Mix the all-purpose flour, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt together. If you choose to add rolled oats or nuts, include them in this mixture.
- Add the cold cubed butter to the dry ingredients. Using your fingers, rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. The texture should be crumbly but hold together when you press it.
- Sprinkle the crumble mixture evenly over the apples in the baking dish.
- Place the dish in the preheated oven and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes or until the topping turns golden brown, and the apple filling is bubbly.
- Once baked, remove the apple crumble from the oven and let it cool slightly before serving.
- Serve the warm apple crumble on its own or with a dollop of custard, cream, or–my favorite option–vanilla ice cream.