Dish of sweet fruits (typically apple, cherry, or bramble) topped with crumbed mix of approx. 2 parts flour, 1 part butter, 1 part sugar, which is only very lightly patted in place so that, when baked, it remains crumbly.
There is a similar sweet dessert from the early 19th Century called Breadcrumb Cake, but the term 'crumble' as used today seems to be quite modern. It is possibly the case that it was either invented or popularised during the rationing of the Second World War as a way of providing a wheaty topping to fruit which used less of the precious fats than conventional pastry, but we've not been able to track it down in any wartime books.
Although North American cookbooks now tend to present crumble as being distinctly English, the earliest written references are from there. The first known is in the 1947 USA 'Meta Given's Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking', while the first English reference, in the 'Good Housekeeping Home Encyclopedia' of 1952, describes it as a "Canadian or ‘crumble' topping for pies."
See: Brown Betty
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