Buckles, Cobblers, Grunts and Slumps

It’s blueberry season in Maine. The abundance of blueberries got me thinking about my mom’s blueberry buckle recipe. What, pray tell, is a buckle?

Buckles

Fruit buckles are very much associated in my mind with New England, but my quick check of southern recipe collections suggest that that’s not the case historically. Southern recipes for buckles feature apples and plums Almond-Plum Buckle recipe rather than blueberries Blueberry Buckle Recipe. A buckle, for the curious, is an old-fashioned style of single layer cake, typically cooked in a flat pan, round or square (rather than , and includes fruit and streusel-style crumb topping. Some recipes call for mixing the fruit into the cake batter, others have the cook spread the fruit between the batter and streusel topping, as a separate layer. The batter is very dense, and as the cake cooks, the batter sinks to the bottom, and pushes the fruit and streusel up, making them “buckle,” or give way. In other words, the “buckle” in question is derived from the verb, with the meaning of “to bend, warp, bulge, or collapse.” Etymologically speaking, buckle derives from Middle English bokel, from Old French boucle, from Latin buccula, the cheek strap of a helmet, itself derived from a diminutive of bucca, or “cheek.”

Cobblers

Cobbler, ready to bake Image Credit: Lisafern via WikiMedia

A cobbler is a Southern fruit dessert. The fruit is usually peaches, or berries; either blackberries, raspberries or cherries. Biscuit dough is dropped in spoonfuls over a mixture of fruit and syrup (made with sugar and fruit juice) or biscuit dough is rolled out and placed over fruit filling as a top layer, sealing in the juice and berries. The OED associates cobblers with the American west, and offers Bartlett’s Dictionary of 1859 as the first attestation “A sort of pie, baked in a pot lined with dough of great thickness, upon which the fruit is placed; according to the fruit, it is an apple or a peach cobbler.” The OED subsequently refers to Mark Twain’s 1880 travelography Tramp Abroad, and a “Peach cobbler, Southern style.” I confess that I have no clue about the etymology of cobbler (neither does the AHD who offers “Origin unknown”); or why a word associated with manufacturing shoes, or temporary fixes might be associated with such a delightful dessert. I note, in passing, that it’s possible that the meaning of cobbler in this context is related to the use of cobble as a verb to mean “One who mends clumsily, a clumsy workman, a mere botcher.” But I’m guessing, and rather wildly, at that.

Grunts and Slumps

A grunt is very much a New England dish. It’s a fruit dessert made by stewing fresh fruit, briefly, then putting the very hot fruit in a baking dish and dropping spoonfuls of a biscuit-dough like batter on to the very hot fruit. The steam from the fruit cooks the dough—and often, the escaping steam from the partially smothered and still cooling fruit creates a “grunting” noise. You normally finish cooking the grunt in an oven so that the topping is browned, and if possible, you sprinkle a little sugar on the top before you pop it in the oven, and the sugar and the juice and the steam and heat from the oven create a lovely caramel. Grunts are very much part of New England wood-stove cooking, so much so that growing up I noticed some women identified their cast iron dutch ovens as “grunts.” Elsewhere, for instance in Georgia and coastal Carolina, the same dessert is called a slump, because when you take the dessert off the heat, it slumps or falls.

It’s not uncommon to still have fresh blackberries and plums in Southern New Hampshire in late September, just as fall is about to burst forth in full glorious leafage. I still get all nostalgic about grunts and cobblers and buckles. It’s a good time now to freeze ripe peaches, so you can have peach cobbler Peach Cobbler Recipe | SimplyRecipes.com in February. And there’s no reason not to freeze,cherries, blueberries and blackberries, too. I’m a firm believer in blackberry grunt and plum grunt Blackberry Grunt Recipe | Alton Brown | Food Network , as well, and the late plums are still on trees in some parts of the U.S. I note that buckles, cobblers, grunts and slumps are all best served warm with a scoop of really good vanilla ice cream.

Yes, It’s Saint Patrick’s Day

Image of Saint Patrick's Bell, Armagh, Ireland

Saint Patrick’s Bell

As a Celticist, I have an abiding interest in Irish culture, and around March 17, so, apparently, does most of the United States. I’ve written a rant about Irish cultural myths, I’ve written about the true place of corned beef in terms of Irish culture, genuinely Irish food, like Irish Soda Bread, colcannon, Guinness, and Irish Whisky, and even Irish loan words in English, and the real nature of Leprechauns.

All of that said St. Patrick seems to have been a fifth century Romano-Britain, a speaker of a language closely related to Welsh, before he became the national saint of Ireland.