Driving my dessert

This evening the English Country Dance performance group for whom I play had a potluck dinner. I decided what to make for this event on Friday night, when I saw the first local raspberries in the grocery store. I still had raspberries in the freezer from last July, as well as peaches from last August. It was time to use those up to make room for this year’s harvest.

I took the fruit out of the freezer this morning, and left it to thaw. By mid-afternoon, the peaches were still a little hard in the middle, but I needed to start cooking. Peaches, raspberries, sugar, cornstarch and almond extract went into the baking dish, topped with a crumble of slivered almonds, oats, butter, flour and sugar. 350 degree oven for 45 minutes per the recipe. At 45 minutes, the kitchen smelled good, but there was neither bubbling of fruit nor browning of topping to be seen. I remembered that the fruit had been quite cold when it entered the oven… and I turned up the oven temperature 25 degrees and set the timer for another 15 minutes. At the end of that time period, there was both bubbling and slight browning, so out came the crumble for a little cooling before its trip to the party.

Twenty minutes later, I was ready to go. The crumble was still hot. However, it didn’t slosh when jiggled, so I deemed it safe for travel. I put the baking dish in a holder, wrapped a dishtowel around the bottom, and placed the whole assembly on the floor of the car in front of the passenger’s seat. And then I backed out of our driveway.

Our driveway is not flat. In fact, it is rather steeply sloped near the road. And as I paused on that steep spot to check for traffic, I noticed that the crumble was behaving like a liquid rather than a solid, which it to say that, while its container was sitting at the same angle as the car, the crumble was attempting to level itself by sliding towards the lower edge of the dish. Fortunately, it was a thick liquid (though not so thick as glass), so the progress of the crumble was slow… and, as there was no oncoming traffic, I was able to quickly relevel the car and the baking dish within. Spillage averted.

We live at the top of one of the highest hills in Seattle. The roads up and down the hill are among the steepest I have ever driven. I briefly contemplated taking the flatter “snow route” used by city buses in the event of, well, the obvious, but decided that I was not willing to go several blocks out of my way for a fruit crumble. However, I chose not the “dive dive dive” straight-shot-several-hundred-feet-down Queen Anne Avenue route, but the back route, with shorter stretches of steep slope punctuated by flatter bits of road.

Those who have spent much time in a car with me will not be surprised when I say that I like to drive fast. (We’re not talking Autobahn fast, or Hamilton fast, but I do like speed.) As a corollary, I accelerate and brake more quickly than is advisable for maximum fuel efficiency. (I drive a compact, fuel-efficient, manual-transmission car. Perhaps I should feel guilty about some quick starts and stops, but I just can’t manage it.) And driving down our hill, in the absence of other traffic, I like to coast partway, letting gravity provide the (ample) acceleration. I did none of those things today.

Today, I drove to the potluck like [what is your stereotype of an overly slow, hyper-cautious driver? insert it here]. I ac- and de-celerated slowly and smoothly. I yielded the right-of-way to everyone, whether it was by rights theirs or not.

While I drove slowly and carefully, the peach-raspberry crumble responded as if on a slalom course, sliding into each turn and incline. Fortunately, the topping had set up somewhat, providing valuable surface tension. Several times I watched the leading edge of the crumble pass the edge of the dish; each time the surface held, and the dessert slid back into place. However, there were scars. The top of the crumble developed a number of small folds perpendicular to the direction of incline.

The greatest test of the crumble came on an accelerating, slightly downhill, 110 degree left turn. I was a block away from the intersection when the light turned green. I did not want to sit through a cycle of the light, so I accelerated, and then made the turn. The crumble slid to the far corner of the baking dish, and – as I discovered at my destination – a couple of drops of juice escaped the dish, staining the dishtowel. However, almost all of the crumble settled safely back into the dish once I had completed the turn.

Upon reaching our destination, I noted that, while the crumble was only half the height of the baking dish, the entire inside surface of the dish now had a film of thickened fruit juice on it. (Good thing I hadn’t used a smaller dish.)

The entire crumble was consumed, and some time later I drove home – empty dish and holder rattling a bit on the car floorboard – like myself again.