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Ultimate Guide to Fruit Desserts: Crisps, Cobblers, and More

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

What are the differences between cobblers, crumbles, pies, etc?

What are the differences between cobblers, crumbles, pies, etc?

Funny Names for Seriously Good Desserts

The world of British and American baked fruit desserts is full of funny names—there are bettys, buckles, crisps, cobblers, dowdies, and slumps. Though each has its own identity, they all hold this in common—they are born of a mix of necessity, ingenuity, and improvisation. Let’s explore each one and discover some great recipes along the way.

Brown Betty

The brown betty is perhaps the easiest of all of the baked fruits desserts and the most frugal. Unlike a crisp (which we'll discuss soon), there are no oats or nuts. Roughly torn bread crumbs or stale bits of cake sit atop a bubbling baking dish of spiced fruit; those crumbs brown in the oven. (Don't ask me about the "betty" part; I've explored all of my usual sources and the food historians are clueless.)

Blueberry brown betty

Blueberry brown betty

Blueberry Brown Betty

Tieghan shares with us her interpretation of a recipe she found in Bread Toast Crumbs by Alexandra Stafford. With just six ingredients, you can create this beautiful homage to summertime, a blueberry brown betty.


Next on the list is the buckle—a cake-like batter is poured into a hot pan, fruit (often berries) is swirled in, and then it's all covered with a crumble topping. This dessert is called a "buckle" because of its buckled appearance (think of a formerly smooth-paved road that has bent or heaved from storms and the passage of time).

Strawberry buckle

Strawberry buckle

Strawberry Buckle

In my little corner of the world, the strawberry season has come and gone. Perhaps you are luckier than I and can grab a pint or two of these heavenly red orbs at your local farmers' market.

Danelle baked her strawberry buckle in individual cast iron pans, but you could certainly prepare this recipe in one large skillet; just be sure to increase the baking time a bit. Every other ingredient is a simple one that you should already have waiting in your pantry. In less than an hour (and most of that time is merely baking time) you can prepare this dessert for your family. (May I suggest the addition of a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top?)


Although most people can agree that a cobbler is a fruit dessert topped with biscuit dough, the origin of the name has been lost in time. I had assumed that “cobble” referred to the resemblance of the baked topping to cobblestones, but The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology provides this tidbit:

"A kind of pie baked in a deep dish, 1859, American English, but perhaps ultimately related to, or even developed from unrecorded use of cobeler, n. 1385, a kind of wooden bowl or dish."

So perhaps as the Moroccan tagine and the Spanish paella are named for the vessel in which they are prepared, the cobbler is a nod to the bowl in which it was mixed.

Easy cherry cobbler

Easy cherry cobbler

Easy Cherry Cobbler

Although fresh is best, Terri knows that the peak season for cherries is short, so she has developed a recipe for an easy cherry cobbler that used frozen cherries. There's even a video to inspire you.


This crisp is the sister of the brown betty, the prettier mom-liked-you-best sister. In this dessert, the best part of coffee cake (the streusel crumbs) sits atop a bubbling dish of fruit. Most people think of "apple" when they hear the word crisp, but truly any fruit will do.

Ultimate apple crisp

Ultimate apple crisp

Ultimate Apple Crisp

In the Carb Diva house, apple crisp is at the top of the list of favorite desserts. First (obviously) it's made with apple and spice, not a bad combination in anyone's book. And since we live in "apple country" this is an obvious choice for us.

Next is the fact that this dessert has all the wonderful flavors of apple pie without all of the fuss. There's no worry about creating the perfect flaky pie crust (oh my, it can be so fussy). There's no rolling of dough or gently placing it in the pie dish (don't stretch it or it might shrink!).

This recipe for the ultimate apple crisp bakes in a nine-inch pan. In most cases, that would be nine servings. In my house, I will make two—one for my daughter, and one for the rest of us.


If the crisp is the pretty sister, the pandowdy is the ugly stepsister. But you know what they say about beauty being only skin-deep? This dessert might be "dowdy" on the outside, but it's uniquely sweet and flavorful with molasses used as the sweetener.

Apple pandowdy

Apple pandowdy

Apple Pandowdy

Yes, I realize that many of these recipes feature apples. Perhaps it's because the apple is so "available." This native of Central Asia grows well in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and even in the northern and southern regions of Africa.

Though there are many recipes on the internet for a pandowdy, few of them are made like the original, sweetened with molasses. This apple pandowdy is true to the history of the dish. Another important step in the making of this dessert is that the top crust is broken with a spoon before the baking is done. This allows some of the bubbling syrup to rise to the surface and some of the partly baked topping to sink into the fruit. Flavors and textures blend and meld.

Allow it to cool for 10 minutes or so after you remove it from the oven, and then serve it with cream.


One look at an apple slump and you’ll understand the meaning of the name—this sweet dessert of apples and soft dumpling dough does not stand tall and proud; it is decidedly misshapen and slumps on the plate. Louisa May Alcott, most notably the author of Little Women, named her home in Massachusetts “Apple Slump.” This recipe from her files was found in the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink:


  • 6 apples, cored and sliced
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk


  1. Prepare the apples and combine them with sugar, cinnamon, and water in a saucepan. Heat to boiling.
  2. Meanwhile, sift together the dry ingredients. Add milk and stir to make a soft dough.
  3. Drop pieces of the dough from a tablespoon onto the apple mixture.
  4. Cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes. Serve with cream.
Peach slump with maple caramel sauce

Peach slump with maple caramel sauce

Peach Slump With Maple Caramel Sauce

This peach slump with caramel sauce does indeed "slump" in the pan. Of course, the addition of a scoop of cold vanilla ice cream on top of the warm fruit and dumpling-like dough does give gravity a bit of an assist.

© 2020 Linda Lum