Oscar is my neighbor. He is twelve and despite the ten and a half year age gap, Helena adores him. Frankly, so do I. More Dickon Sowerby from The Secret Garden than Glen Bishop from Mad Men, he has a sweetness about him (a quality I think he inherited from his mother) and an interest in me, the lonely foreign outsider, that’s really endearing.
When Helena and I are out back picking berries he comes to the balcony to chat. Today, like last weekend, he came down with thick gloves and a pair of secateurs to help. For an hour and a half he and I collected blackberries while Helena sat on a gently sloping hill eating them and trying to fish out her Thomas the Tank Engine as well as her wooden clown toy she had stuffed down a fox hole.
While in the communal garden Oscar refilled his bird feeders and introduced us to his friend, Mr. Greedy, a chirpy robin red breast he’s been feeding for years. We talked flowers and fauna and woodland creatures and pest control–a trade he’s learning from his dad. But they never kill the animals he wanted me to know. They only trap them then release them into the wild. Well, maybe except for rats.
After some time Helena was much too stained and sticky and grumpy to remain outdoors. So we took her and her wooden toy inside. Thomas, it seems, has gone missing.
As a thank you for all his fruit picking help, I told Oscar and his mother that Helena and I would bring him a crumble of his own. But first, I’d have to cook Kleine Maus some lunch. So here is what we had–chicken legs cooked in bacon fat and Noilly Prat. Below is the recipe. And below that is the recipe for the apple-berry crumbles I baked. I hope you enjoy them both.
Bacon Fat and Noilly Prat Chicken Legs:
Knowing that I had chicken legs for lunch, I purposefully left this morning’s bacon grease in a pan. I reheated it over a medium-high flame then added the chicken pieces that I had rubbed down with Maldon salt and freshly cracked pepper. I sautéed them and constantly shook them around, so as to avoid sticking, for about 10 minutes. Then I added a quarter cup of Noilly Prat and allowed everything to sizzle. I waited until the liquid evaporated and the chicken skin was crispy again. The result was sweet, salty and aromatic. It was also stupidly delicious and probably too good for a toddler. But what can I say? I love her. I put truffle oil on her scrambled eggs and cook her nice things.
Apple-Berry Crumble Ingredients:
Preheat the oven to 375F/190C/Gas5
For the fruit mixture:
blackberries (I used about 6 cups worth)
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced (not too thin! otherwise, they dissolve)
the zest of 1 lemon + half a teaspoon of its juice
1 3/4 cup sugar (a mix of Demerara and caster)
1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract
about a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger
Combine all ingredients except for the berries. Those you gently stir in once everything else is mixed. Take care not to bash them otherwise you’ll have soup.
For the crumble topping:
1/4 cup flour
1 cup sugar (I use a combination of soft brown and Demerara)
1/2 cup dried coconut
3/4 cup oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons of cold cubed butter
Put all ingredients in a large bowl and use only your fingertips to combine it until it looks like fine meal. Sprinkle liberally atop your crumble.
Now bake for about 50 minutes or until the topping is crisp and golden brown and the fruit is viscous and bubbling. Serve with Greek yogurt, whipped cream, or a nice vanilla bean ice cream.