Cobblers, Crisps, Grunts and Slumps

Dessert, Featured Article, Recipes
on June 22, 2008
Blackberry Slump
Mark Boughton Photography / styling by Teresa Blackburn

Anyone who is a fan of old-fashioned desserts will have heard of slumps. Although they might not have actually made one, they may know that a slump, a variation of a cobbler, is also related to a grunt. To understand the differences, it helps to know something about the origin of pastry desserts. Early pastries, from the word paste, were dense and inedible doughs of flour, fat and liquid, sturdy enough to form into shapes and used as “pots” for cooking savory pies. In the 17th century, when sugar, butter and baking pans became available, cooks began making pies with thinner, edible crusts, which were turned upside down before serving.

Eventually fruit fillings, spooned out of the pan, replaced some of the savory meat mixtures, and biscuit or crumb toppings were used in place of pastry. These changes led the way to cobblers, crisps, grunts and slumps. Pandowdies, crumbs layered with fruit, were another variation. Grunts and slumps are versions of cobblers, named for the cobblestone look of the dough that dots the top.

Grunts have dumpling-like toppings, but instead of being baked, they are cooked on top of the stove. It is said that “grunt” refers to the sound of the bubbling fruit when the lid of the pot is lifted. If by any chance you have trouble keeping track of grunts, cobblers and slumps, open the oven door when the timer goes off and take a look. The biscuit topping comfortably slumped over the fruit says it all.

By Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.