Fruit crisps: oat-y or oat-free

I remember the conversation as if it happened yesterday, not nearly seven years ago.

We were just about to enjoy dessert and I had set a cup of tea and a dish of fruit crisp and ice cream in front of my husband. He eyed the fruit crisp suspiciously, then asked, “Since when have you been adding oats to rhubarb crisp?”

“Since always,” I answered, giving him an equally suspicious stare.

Was he feeling OK, I wondered? At the time, we’d been married 17 years and I had always made crisps with rolled oats in the crumble topping. (OK, maybe only 97% of the time.) He’d never questioned a crisp’s contents before. I briefly contemplated suggesting we take his temperature to see if he was alright. Then again, maybe this was some sort of mid-life crisp crisis? Or perhaps a crisp epiphany of sorts?

An animated discussion ensued. Me trying unsuccessfully to convince him that, in fact, many people made fruit crisps with rolled or quick oats. He assuring me his mom had never used oats in her crisps and besides, oats really weren’t necessary – in fact, should not be allowed in a fruit crisp. (To this day, I’m not sure what he has against oats!)

Of course, oats aren’t an essential ingredient in a fruit crisp. But they do add a nutty flavor which many people (obviously my husband excluded!) enjoy.

With or without oats is not the only decision one needs to make when making fruit crisps. Choosing which fruit or fruits to use really is decision numero uno. Taste buds can be stretched by varying the fruit or using a combination of different fruits (eg. apples, dried apricots and raisins; apples, cranberries and nuts; apples and pears; pears and blueberries; plums and cranberries; plums and apples; blueberries, blackberries and raspberries; and apples or peaches with crystallized ginger).

Fresh or frozen fruit or combinations of both can be used. Frozen berries can be used straight from the freezer without thawing or rinsing. Frozen fruits covered with ice crystals (eg. rhubarb) should be rinsed with cold water and patted dry.

Vanilla ice cream and whipped cream are traditional toppings for fruit crisp, but if it won’t upset life in your household too much, be a little adventurous by pairing crisps with butterscotch, butter pecan or caramel ice cream; frozen yogurt; custard sauce; flavored yogurt; yogurt sweetened with maple syrup or brown sugar; whipping cream whipped with a little sugar and cinnamon; creme fraiche; or caramel sauce or maple syrup.

With the warm weather in southern Ontario this past weekend foreshadowing the arrival of gardening season and farmers’ markets laden with fresh fruit, here are a few fruit crisp recipes – with and without oats – to remind you of the seasonal bounty to come. Right now, use apples or any frozen fruit currently in your freezer so you can make room for this year’s crop of fruit. Plan to freeze various fruits as they come into season so you can enjoy fruit crisps year round made from local produce .

Rhubarb-Strawberry Crisp
(Makes 6 servings)

3 cups (750 mL) fresh or frozen chopped rhubarb
3 cups (750 mL) fresh or frozen whole strawberries
1/4 cup (60 mL) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 mL) cornstarch
1/3 cup (75 mL) rolled oats
1/3 cup (75 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 mL) brown sugar
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter or margarine
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) ground cinnamon

Combine rhubarb and strawberries in a large bowl. In a small bowl, stir together sugar and cornstarch; add to fruit and stir to coat. Place fruit mixture in a 9-inch (23 cm) square baking pan.

In a small bowl, combine rolled oats, flour, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon, working the mixture with your fingers until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over fruit.

Bake in a preheated 400°F (200°C) oven for 25 to 30 minutes until fruit is tender.

Let cool slightly before serving or cool completely and serve at room temperature.

Apple Crisp
(Makes 6 servings)

For a nutty flavor, add 1/2 cup (125 mL) rolled oats and another tablespoon (15 mL) butter to the flour and brown sugar mixture. Raisins can be sprinkled over top of the apples, if desired.

6 large apples, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup (125 mL) apple cider or juice
1/2 cup (125 mL) sugar
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) ground cinnamon
3/4 cup (175 mL) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (125 mL) brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) salt
1/3 cup (75 mL) butter or margarine

Place apples in a lightly greased 9-inch square baking pan. Pour cider over top. Combine sugar and cinnamon; mix well. Sprinkle mixture over apples.

Combine flour, brown sugar, salt and butter until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle over apples.

Bake in a preheated 350°F (180°C) oven for about 45 minutes, until apples are tender and crumbs are lightly browned.

Let cool slightly before serving or cool completely and serve at room temperature.

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