Friday, 6 October 2017

on crumble in times of grief and loss

strawberry crumble 
i hold the word loss in my mouth. it feels full and heavy. when babcia died on the last day of july, i realised that loss had crossed a boundary. until then, it had described the process of losing her. afterwards, it took to grief.

the truth is i lost babcia slowly.

over the last few years, dementia affected her memory and eventually cancer and age stole her body. when i saw her in march, she was a fraction of herself -  her bones so prominent that one could study anatomy through them. it is hard enough to lose a loved one, to do so over a protracted period of time from afar was excruciating. my grief was complicated because as i lost my grandmother, mama lost her mummy and daddy, his love and companion and whilst they were together, i was several thousand miles away.

these feelings crystallised over a bowl of crumble on a hot evening in early july for i was puzzled by my desire for it during high summer. crumble ordinarily belongs to autumn and winter with its warmth and lusciousness of cream. but this summer, it was the bowlful of memories from my maternal grandparents table that brought comfort in sadness. it is the simplest of desserts and one that was a regular at babcia’s table.

babcia kept raw crumble mix in a glass jar in the fridge, its services ready to called upon when dessert was needed. it had a nubbly texture because of the coarseness of the sugar and was of the classic kind made from the trinity that is flour, sugar and butter. she did not  dress it up with almonds or give it an air of healthiness with oats. i often ate it in the raw in the years before i became conscious of my weight.

raw crumble on strawberries
babcia’s crumble was always made with apples, irrespective of the season. eating it was an exercise in patience as it would arrive at the table straight from the oven. if you listened carefully you could hear it speak, sputtering caramel and whispering heat. i remember eating it on hot sticky summer nights in lahore with a fat squiggle of milkpak cream or spoonfuls of rafhan custard. it may seem an odd choice but we did not feel it in the deeply chilled air conditioned dining room.

i have taken liberties with my crumble making from time to time, introducing different flours and sugars. but nothing beats babcia’s classic version and i return to it time and again, although i do confess to using fruit in season. i realise now that this is for familiarity and constancy. i know that memory is not linear. it shifts with each telling. but where recollection might change, this crumble will remain constant.

crumble with cream
note: i used strawberries because it was june. it turned out to be a delicious crumble, much like a strawberry short cake.  in autumn i would use plums, pears or apples. i find that bramley apples work best as they cook quickly. i like plenty of crumble to fruit so the ratio below works well. this recipe doubles easily.    

{babcia’s crumble}

250g strawberries
125g flour
65g + 1 tbsp golden sugar
90g butter
double cream to serve

preheat the oven to 200°c. wash, hull and halve the strawberries. place them in a shallow baking dish and sprinkle with a tablespoon of sugar. toss them gently and set aside.

mix the flour and sugar. add the butter and rub it into the dry ingredients using the tips of your fingers until it forms small crumbs. spread the crumble over the fruit and bake for around 35 minutes until golden.

serve warm or at room temperature with double cream.  



  1. Such captivating writing. I am sorry for your loss, but glad you are carrying on her traditions. Take care!

    1. Thank you for your kind words Izzah. Our loved ones are best remembered this way. x

  2. Replies
    1. I so appreciate your reading and words Alicia! You always take time to do so. We were lucky to have met and become friends too. x