Grunts are one of those great “Grandma” desserts that trace their history back to colonial times. They are in the large family of cooked fruit desserts that include crisps, cobblers, betty’s, pandowdy’s, and slumps that are distinguished by cooking fruit in combination with some sort of crust (on top, on the bottom or both) or dumpling.
Although there is a great debate on what makes a “grunt”, the consensus seems to be that both grunts and slumps are simmered on top of the stove rather than baked in the oven like crisps, cobblers. The most famous “slump” no doubt is the recipe for Apple Slump which Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, prepared in her home in Concord Massachusetts. The fruit was cooked and then pieces of yeasted dough were placed on top. It was then covered and cooked until the dough was done. The name Slump came from the fact that when spooned out onto the plate it “slumped” and had no recognizable shape. Grunts are very similar. They usually are made with berries and topped with a baking powder dumpling. The name supposedly comes from the sound the berries make as they simmer in the pot!
My favorite Grunt is one my Grandmother made using blackberries. She would make it in the summer when the wild berries were plentiful. However you can make and enjoy this year round since most markets carry frozen IQF (individually quick frozen without sugar) berries. These are often better than fresh in most markets because they are picked and frozen when they are fully ripe and at the peak of flavor. The price is usually very good too. Too often the fresh berries we see have been picked under-ripe so that they’ll travel better. Blueberries make a nice alternative here.
Serves 6 – 8
For the berries:
8 cups fresh or IQF (individually quick frozen) blackberries
3/4 cup sugar (or to taste)
1/2 cup red wine or water
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
For the dumpling dough:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup buttermilk (or a mixture of plain yogurt and skim milk or water), plus more to make a soft dough
2 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or sweetened yogurt
Place the berry mixture in a heavy, deep casserole and bring to a simmer over moderate heat.
While berries are cooking make the dumpling dough by stirring together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl. Stir in the melted butter. Add enough of the buttermilk to form a soft dough. For reference it should be wetter than a biscuit dough.
Using a soup spoon, place heaping spoonfuls of the dumpling dough on top the fruit. Make sure you have at least one per person. Sprinkle the dumplings with the cinnamon sugar. Tightly cover with a lid or a sheet of foil and cook the mixture over medium-low heat so that the fruit just barely simmers. Keep covered until the dumplings are puffed and set and the surface is firm when touched with a fingertip. This will take about 12 minutes or so.
To serve: Spoon the warm grunt into serving bowls and spoon on whipped cream, ice cream or sweetened yogurt.
Wine Recommendation: Although I usually think desserts are best served without wine because of the problem of balancing the sugars in the wine and the dessert. If the dessert is sweeter than the wine then the wine will taste thin and acidic. However, the not-too-sweet ripe berry flavor here could be a nice match with a ruby style port. In California a number of producers are making nice port-like wines (true Port comes from Portugal) from grapes like Black Muscat, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah that I’d love with this dessert.