Buckle Up

A relic of a bygone era, buckles appear in books mostly as footnotes, a passing mention as an antiquated dessert with a funny name. For all the cobblers, crumbles, crisps, and pies out there, hardly anyone stops to consider making a slump, grunt, brown Betty, or our hero of the day, a buckle.

While everyone was staying home and stress-baking banana bread during the pandemic, it would have made much more sense to see a resurgence of fruit buckles. The dessert gets its name from its appearance, dimpled with fruit and streusel topping, like the wrinkled surface of a bridge about to give way. Given the way the world itself felt warped out of shape, distorted and liable to collapse any moment, the humble fruit buckle seems well suited to that unstable energy.

Thankfully, this construction is much more structurally sound than it may look. Though there’s a high ratio of fruit to batter, it holds up admirably under pressure, including transportation, advanced prep, and indelicate slicing. In fact, it’s much more stable than our beloved pumpkin pie.

This holiday season, I’m bringing the buckle back. Dressed in a spicy cloak of ginger and warm brown sugar, winter’s finest crimson cranberries sparkle from within, dusted with a heavy snow of confectioner’s sugar over sweet cinnamon crumbs. Blueberry buckles may be the best known of the bunch, but there’s no reason why we can’t switch gears with the seasons here. Emblematic of the fleeting nature of the holidays, cranberries will be gone before you know it, so you had better get your fill of these tart little jewels while they’re still around.

Plan ahead and toss a bag or two of fresh cranberries in the freezer to extend the joy. You can toss them right into the batter without thawing to speed right through to the good part: eating. Enjoy warm, at room temperature, or even chilled. My favorite approach is to enjoy it lightly toasted in the oven or air fryer, individually crisped slices with extra crunchy edges, and a big scoop of ice cream slowly melting on top.

Just because it buckles doesn’t mean it will break. It’s stronger than it looks, just like all of us.

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Honey, I Shrank the Squash

If the current state of seasonal produce has you down in the dumps, dreading another farmers market haul of little more than potatoes and onions, take a closer look at the hardier squash. You might have missed one bright spot of culinary inspiration on the shelf, tiny as they are at no more than 6 inches tall. Honeynut squash look like miniature butternuts, but boast a remarkably intense sweetness beyond compare. Darker, creamier, denser, and overall richer, they’re everything you know and love in conventional gourds, amplified and intensified into a pint-sized package.

All it takes is a touch of heat to yield a flavorful side; even the skin is edible, if you so desire! The very best approach is to anoint with oil and perhaps a savory marinade before sending seeded halves through a blazing hot oven.

Of course, I can never leave well enough alone, and can’t resist the opportunity to take the name more literally. Brushing homemade vegan honey over wafer thin slits, allowing the nectar to penetrate the flesh in all its dulcet golden glory, takes only a tiny bit more effort that pays off in spades. Scattering a handful of crisp sliced almonds on top brings in a world of textural contrast, although I’d be tempted to try a more resounding crunch with chopped pecans or walnuts next time.

If you thought there was nothing to get excited about for wintertime harvests, stock up on these small squash. Just one bite will chase away the hibernal gloom.

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