There are few things more comforting than a dessert that reminds you of Grandma's house.
When I was a kid, we'd go up to the Smoky Mountains to spend a few weeks with Grandma and Grandpa in the summer. My grandparents' house in North Carolina has always been a very warm memory for me, and one of my favorite times in the Henson Cove was during blackberry season. As kids, we'd put on overalls, boots, and long-sleeved shirts in 90-degree weather, the sweat prickling our necks as we pulled out our buckets and trudged across the lawn to Grandma's blackberry bushes. And even though we were supposed to pick berries for dessert, my sister and I would shovel plump, sweet, ripe blackberries into our mouths. Grandma's bushes were brimming with berries, so there was plenty to go around. You've never tasted berries as sweet as those in the Henson Cove in July.
Once we'd gotten the briars out of our sleeves, we'd bring the buckets back into Grandma's kitchen, where she'd dump them in a blue plastic washtub and rinse them out. That's when the magic happened.
She'd toss the fresh blackberries in a pinch of sugar, and lay them in a greased casserole dish. Next came the crumble: a mix of oats, sugar, butter, and a pinch of cinnamon. The blackberry crisp – or blackberry crumble, as it's sometimes called – went into the oven, and we'd watch it turn golden brown. We had to wait until after dinner, but Grandma always timed it the way only Southern ladies know how. She'd pull out vanilla ice cream just as the crisp was cool enough to eat. Fresh, juicy blackberries, creamy vanilla ice cream, crunchy streusel-like topping – it'll make your mouth water just thinking about it.
The beauty of Grandma's casserole dish is that she made enough to feed the whole family. There's none of this "individual serving" nonsense; everyone scoops from a communal dish and fights over the last helping. A fresh fruit crisp is one of the best ways to use your casserole dish because of the sheer simplicity of the recipe. Although blackberry crisp is my preference, farmers across the South offer loads of ripe, seasonal fruit. At peak season, you won't get any dessert better than a fruit crisp (or cobbler, if you prefer). Pour the fruit of your choice into a greased 9x13 dish, crumble (or spoon) on your topping, and pop the dessert into the oven. This Southern classic is simple, fresh, sweet, and delicious.
Although every Mamaw, Memaw, Nana, and Grandma has her own crisp or crumble recipe to share, we've got an easy blackberry cobbler recipe that's a great way to start the tradition in your own family. Our family opted for "crisp" to work around allergies, but a classic cobbler is a great way to honor fresh blackberries.
Here's how to make it:
A blackberry crisp also goes a long way in entertaining. It's a single glass dish to bring to your church potluck, a casual dessert for a picnic, an upscale offering when spooned and garnished for a formal dinner, and a comforting taste of home for new neighbors or a sick friend. So, when you're in a pinch this summer, turn to your local farmers' market (or, the blackberry bushes in Grandma's backyard) to inspire a classic Southern dessert that flies off the table.