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FOOD 101: Crisp, Crumble, Cobbler ~ The Difference

Cherry Cobbler
[1] Cherry cobbler—the biscuit dough dropped on top of the fruit resembles cobblestones (photo courtesy Choose Cherries).

[2] Peach cobbler (photo courtesy Zulka Sugar).

  Do you know the difference between a cobbler, a crisp and a crumble? Have you ever had a betty, bird’s nest pudding (a.k.a. crow’s nest pudding), buckle, grunt, pandowdy or slump?

There are many kinds of baked fruit desserts, from the simplest—cored fruits, baked or roasted—to pies and tarts, which cradle the baked fruit between one or two crusts.

But one group of recipes gets confusing: deep dish baked fruit, made in pans or casseroles. There’s no crust, per se; but each variety is distinguished by its topping.

These desserts can be made with any type of fruit, but are typically made with apples, berries or stone fruits—cherries, peaches, nectarines and plums.

In observance of National Cherry Cobbler Day, May 17th, we explain the differences among the different baked fruit dishes.

Baked in early American kitchens, these dishes were simple to make, using seasonal fruits, flour and sugar.

According to What’s Cooking America, colonists often served them for breakfast, as a first course or even a main course. It was not until the late 19th century that they were served primarily as desserts.

  • BETTY, or brown betty, alternates layers of fruit with layers of buttered bread crumbs. Some modern recipes use graham cracker crumbs—but it must have crumbs, not streusel, to be a betty (here’s a recipe). Who was betty? No one knows, but the the dish was first mentioned in print in 1864, so the Betty who created it was working without a modern oven, much less electricity.
  • BIRD’S NEST PUDDING is a bit different: A pan of fruit is covered with a batter that bakes into an uneven top with the fruit poking through. It’s served in a bowl topped with heavy cream and spices.
  • BUCKLE, very similar to the French clafoutis (often spelled clafouti in the U.S.), adds fruit, usually berries, to a single layer of batter. When baked, it becomes a cake-like layer studded with berries. It is topped with a crumb layer (streusel), which gives it a buckled appearance. Alternatively, the cake, fruit and crumbs can be made as three separate layers.

  • COBBLER has a pastry top instead of a crumb top. Biscuit pastry is dropped from a spoon, the result resembling cobblestones.
  • CRISP is a deep-dish baked fruit dessert made with a crumb or streusel topping. The crumbs can be made with bread crumbs, breakfast cereal, cookie or graham cracker crumbs, flour or nuts.
  • CROW’S NEST PUDDING is another term for bird’s nest pudding. In some recipes, the fruit is cored, the hole filled with sugar, and the fruit wrapped in pastry.
  • CRUMBLE is the British term for crisp.
  • GRUNT is a spoon pie with biscuit dough on top of stewed fruit. Stewed fruit is steamed on top of the stove, not baked in the oven. The recipe was initially an attempt to adapt the English steamed pudding to the primitive cooking equipment available the Colonies. The term “grunt” was used in Massachusetts, while other New England states called the dish a slump.
  • PANDOWDY or pan dowdy is a spoon pie made with brown sugar or molasses. It has a rolled top biscuit crust that is broken up during baking and pushed down into the fruit to allow the juices to seep up. It is believed that the name refers to its “dowdy” appearance. Sometimes it is made “upside down” with the crust on the bottom, and inverted prior to serving.
  • SLUMP is another word for grunt.
    And don’t overlook:


    [1] An apple crumble. Photo courtesy Spice Islands. [2] An apple betty, distinguished by breadcrumbs. Here’s a recipe from Williams-Sonoma.


  • SLAB PIE, a shallow pie that’s baked in a jelly roll pan or a rimmed baking sheet(here’s more about it).
  • SONKER or ZONKER, a North Carolina term for a deep-dish cobbler made with fruit or sweet potato. It is described as a hybrid between a pie and a cobbler.
    As Kim Severson, writing in The New York Times about sonkers and zonkers, notes: “These dishes are so regional that people within the same county will disagree on the proper form.”

    There are names that may be so location-specific that they have become obscure, such as boot, which may have been a local word for cobbler, crumble, etc.

    There are also dumps, short for dump cakes, that “dump everything” into the baking dish or mixing bowl. While the term is mostly used for cakes, here’s an example of a apple dump that’s topped with cookie dough.

    Your family may call it a particular dish by a particular name, correct or not. But the most correct thing is: Bake fruit in season, and bake it often!


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