Gourmet’s Guide to Cobblers, Crisps, Crumbles, Bettys, Buckles + Pandowdies

Meet the cobbler family: These desserts all rearrange fruit and dough in various and delightful ways. Although they are simple and old-fashioned, they’re also irresistible, making excellent use of fruits at the height of their season.
guide to fruit desserts

Think of a cobbler—fruit topped with a crust and baked—as a fruit pot pie. Most cobblers have a thick biscuit crust, which can either be cut into rounds (“cobbles”) or left as a single layer. Cobblers were originally made with a pie crust, and you can still find cooks in the American South who sandwich a fruit filling between a top and bottom crust made of pie dough. Eat a cobbler warm or cold, wrote Lettice Bryan in The Kentucky Housewife (1839). “Although it is not a fashionable pie for company, it is very excellent for family use.” A few of our favorite fillings for cobblers: stone fruit, sweet cherries, blackberries, apples, berries and brown sugar, or plums and almonds.

In a crisp, the fruit is sprinkled with a streusel-like mixture of butter, sugar, flour, and often oatmeal or nuts that has been rubbed together (or pulsed in a food processor). A crisp is called a crumble in Britain. Try our recipes for plum berry crisp, peach crisp, apple oatmeal crumble, and fall fruit crumble.

A brown Betty is similar to a crisp, but breadcrumbs are used, and they’re layered in with the fruit rather than scattered on top. Try a recipe for brown Betty with apples; add prunes; or make individual little brown Bettys.

In a buckle, the fruit is generally folded into (or sprinkled onto) cake batter and then covered with a topping similar to that found on a crisp; the cake batter will “buckle” as it bakes. Try our recipes for blueberry nectarine buckle, raspberry sour cream buckle, and lemon blueberry buckle (registration required).

A pandowdy is a deep-dish fruit dessert that originated in the hearth kitchen as a way to use up leftover dough (typically bread dough) on baking days. The thick crust, which would become as hard as a cracker, was then broken up and left to soak in the cooking juices. The end result was similar to a bread pudding. The pandowdy evolved with the times, and by the 1850s and ’60s, most women had switched to a biscuit crust, which had become the default crust for all baked and steamed fruit desserts. After the 1860s, both biscuit crusts and pie crusts were used. Up until the mid-20th century, apples were the only fruit and molasses the only sweetener used in pandowdies. Try our recipes for apricot pandowdy and old-fashioned apple pandowdy.

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