Why the West Coast Rules and Why Skimping on Butter is Silly and even Foolish (Part 3)

Blackberry crisp is my favourite dessert. Whether it be after a meal out on the deck with vanilla ice cream in the summer, for breakfast with yogurt in the winter, scooped out of a tiny round Tupperwear container after lunch sitting outside between classes in the fall, or out of the pan when I come home from school, errands, work etc., a berry crisp is a beautiful thing.

However, what crisp is varies for many people. I've tried a couple of different recipes over these past few months, but each time I find myself licking my spoon going hmmmm.....not quite what I expected! What is amiss?

The recipes I've followed or looked at mostly called for more flour than oats, or equal part oats and equal parts flour. I am of the camp that uses more oats than flour. However, the main problem I've been having is that I've been skimping on the butter! What a crime! My crisps were coming out of the oven with these loose floury toppings. Sure, they were good....but we're striving for GREAT over here in Chef Murphy Land. Plus, since crisp is all about the topping (good berries help too, but a mass of boiling berries is jam and if we wanted to eat jars of jam we would), it's very important to find a way to make a topping that suits your fancy best.

When I made a blackberry crisp from 3 different types of local-as-you-can-get blackberries (marion, inch and another kind I forget the name of) down in Oregon I, with confidence, loosely followed a recipe that we often use for crisp; but when I peeked in the oven, to my dismay I saw a sea of floating dry oats: clearly a lack of butter. I knew it! I always do that! I skimp on the butter thinking I'm saving us all, and no no no! Dry oats are terrible no matter how you take them. So I whisked the crisp out of the oven mid-bake (knowing that no harm would come to it) and added dollops of butter all over the top of my little baking beauty. And it was worth it. The end result was a crunchy but not too thick topping loaded with oats, brown sugar and cinnamon, covering gently bubbling sugary blackberries.

Judy's Blackberry Crisp

What's a good crisp? Well, I love a crisp that isn't too sweet and definitely not juicy or runny. Fruit differs in its sweetness, so taste the fruit you're going to use before you sweeten it; in other words, sweeten to taste. I just dump some sugar on, mix it around and see if the fruit is well covered. If it is, I stop dumping. Then, very important, I do the same with instant tapioca. Some people like to use flour to thicken their crisps, but I find that it gives the fruit a gluey colour. If you're using very ripe berries, you'll need more tapioca. I go by the main principle which is to use enough tapioca to cover the fruit, but not thickly, just well dispersed. Then, very important, let this mixture sit for 15 minutes or so while you make the topping. Following these two guidelines have often produced an excellently thick and succulent fruit filling, especially in the old days of living under the apprentice of dad and mum. Now for the topping: I love a crunchy topping laden with oats, a bit of flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and ENOUGH butter. To this you can add lemon/orange zest, nuts, other spices, or whatever your creativity spurs upon you.

The proportions below will be rather rough....but they should be precise enough to give you satisfying results until you find a way that you like best. Maybe you like your fruit sweeter? Maybe you like more flour? Maybe you want nuts in your topping? Maybe you even prefer cobblers....but that's another subject for another day.

- OVEN: 350 degrees F

- Dump enough berries into a 9 X 13 baking dish to cover the bottom and fill the dish half way (probably around 4-6 C)
- Add at least 3/4 C sugar (or less, or more)
- Add at least 2 TBS of instant tapioca (add this, have a look, maybe add a bit more especially if the fruit is super juicy).
- Let this sit for a while (15 min).

- Add at least 2 C of oats into a bowl
- Add 3/4 C flour
- Add 3/4 C brown sugar (maybe more? I'll let you use your better judgement).
- Add 1 TBS cinnamon
- Add at least 1/2 stick of butter - cut in with a pastry blender or your trusty fingers (or use more! No seriously, if after adding this stick of butter you see that there aren't enough little tiny balls to match the ratio of oats, flour and sugar, add another couple TBS - nothing bad will happen, I promise. If all else fails, add some mid-bake).
- Sprinkle this topping over the fruit.
- Bake until bubbling IN THE CENTER at 350 for about.....40-45 minutes.
- Let sit for at least 15 minutes before you eat it so your ice cream doesn't turn the whole thing to a creamy berry soup, unless of course you like this kinda thing, which would be fine, of course.

Also, seeing as life is all about the learning process, if anyone has anything to say about crisp toppings, or a comment on my very LOOSE recipe that I more or less invented from memory, I would be more than delighted to read your words.

Happy Crisping and Stay Tuned For Next Time.


  1. well judy - luke and i became quite the crisp connoiseurs over at the belmont house. i think we once went a week straight of making one every night for a midnight snack. luke enjoyed adding oreo crumbs, which was novel if not somewhat tasty. my favourite addition is ginger. have you tried it? it's yummy. the west coast does rule...and it's coming up to blackberry season! maybe i'll have to cook up a crisp here in china in honour of you, luke and the west coast.


  2. Charlie!

    Ginger would be a perfect addition and yes, I can see the oreo appeal. Crisps are good like that, nice and versatile.

    China! Why yes of course, a good crisp would be a great thing to make. When I eat and make one next Ill think of you.


  3. Judes -

    You are prolific friend. I spent a week wining and dining with the parents this past week and will have much to report when I find time...it may be a week or so though as school is starting and that is well, overwhelming.


  4. so the recipe in the Joy (after our alterations) reads
    1/2 cup flour
    1 cup oats
    3/4 cup butter
    1 cup sugar
    but I think that might be three times the recipe. I actually am not sure there are several versions written in.
    The point really is that I have not made enough crisp this summer and your blackberry crisp looks unbelievably divine.

  5. You're right miss. Maybe we need even more butter and sugar in the recipe. I have crisp booked for tuesday night, a blueberry one, so I'll get back to you on this. I think the joy recipe looks about right. In my recipe I seem to have enough oats to flour, but maybe more sugar and more butter....Tommy D's recipe!!!! equal parts butter, sugar, flour, oats. Yeah, that might be the way to go.


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