In November of 2012, I decided to cook Thanksgiving dinner at 3,000 meters in a small Himalayan village.
The bracing Mustangi wind whistled through cracks in the kitchen wall and licked at my ankles. The smell of the small wood-burning stove in the adjacent room was stronger than its heat.
Somehow, a few pots and pans, three rotating, determined cooks and a tiny stovetop produced a feast I will never forget. An assortment of visitors and locals gathered in the rooftop sun-room to eat, and later the meal devolved into a Shakira-themed dance party.
Improvisation characterized the day’s preparations.
We did not have turkey, so we ate yak. Potatoes we had in abundance, so mashed potatoes survived the journey from America. Bread and other odds and ends I alchemized into a surprisingly tasty stuffing. And an excess of apples determined the theme of the evening.
Apples in stuffing. Apples cooked with glazed carrots and onions. Apple juice. Apple brandy. And, of course, apple crumble.
But how to make apple crumble without an oven to bake it in? I will tell you.
First, you need to assemble your ingredients:
Apples—How many? As many as you have, minus one for snacking while you cook.
Sugar—How much? That’s on you. Brown sugar is my favorite, but honey, maple syrup or any other sugar alternative will also do just fine.
Flour—Quantity depends on your preferred ratio of crumble to apple, but ½ cup per 6 apples is a good place to start.
Oats—1:1 with flour.
Butter—How much? Again, that’s on you, but the more you use…well, I think Thanksgiving is just the wrong time for moderation. It will take at least half a stick to turn your flour and oats crumbly—a full stick would still be reasonable.
Spices—Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice? Any or all. As much as you like, or as little.
Everything ready? Good.
To begin, you will want to slice your apples thin-thin and begin to brown them with a touch of butter, some of your cinnamon and/or other spices, and something sweet. Once everything is sizzling, turn down the heat, cover, and let all that goodness caramelize and simmer for a while.
Just remember to stir occasionally.
In the meantime, you can get to work on your crumb topping. Combine your flour, oats, spices and sweetener in a bowl. Then cut your butter (the colder the better) into small pieces and begin to mix it in with your hands in a pinching motion—sort of like kneading dough, or giving a massage.
When the mixture begins to hold its form, it is ready for heat. You can taste it at any point in the process to check that it is sweet/buttery/spicy enough for you. Spread the mixture into a pan and cook at medium heat to crisp. The more you stir, the more crumbly it will get. The less you stir, the bigger the pieces will stay.
When your apples have cooked down to apple pie consistency (and that means something different for everyone) and your flour-oat mixture has cooked up to crumbly perfection, it is time to serve.
Reunite the two halves of your apple crumble—in individual dishes, or in a pie pan or other serving dish—and let them get to know each other while your guests enjoy their dinner. They will be perfectly melded and still warm when it’s time for dessert.
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Author: Toby Isreal
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Used with permission from Tasha Kimmet
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