The Only Holiday Small Talk You’ll Ever Need: Fruit Crisp

It’s the “most wonderful time of the year” again. The time of year when I get asked cooking questions all the time. Cooking questions fall under the category of small talk. Most of the year I don’t worry too much about small talk. I’ve come to expect it at the dentist’s office or the doggie park – where if you’re comfortable talking about flossing schedules and poop size you’ll be just fine. But the holidays are different so you need to be prepared for a more intimate kind of small talk. I’m talking about holiday party small talk. The desperate attempt we all make to find something in common with a person whose name you’ve completely forgotten.

This is not meant to be a dig against the person you’re talking to. They’ve probably forgotten your name too. It’s just a symptom of the season. Because every year we all get invited to the kind of party where we barely know the host and will certainly never see her co-workers ever again. I’ve decided to prepare myself for the inevitable common ground cooking questions that populate the conversations at these events. The most common of these questions are about dessert. This year I plan to answer “fruit crisp” to any and all queries that come my way.

It’s ripe territory. (Get it? Puns work well in small talk situations.)

Anyway, once I get the “ripe” joke out of the way. I’ll purposely say something controversial about fruit crisp. Something to really stir the pot. (Get it?) Something like, “a fruit crisp is not the same thing as a fruit cobbler.

If I see them raise their eyebrows in disbelief, I’ll say definitively that a fruit cobbler is made with a sweetened biscuit or cookie dough and that a fruit crisp always has a crumbly streusel-like topping where oats are optional.

I admit I’ll just be making this bold statement to garner a reaction. I often make a cookie-topped baked fruit dish (without oats) that I call a fruit crisp because the topping stays crisp. However, when it comes to small talk (and blog talk for that matter), definitive statements and superlative-laden descriptions work best. There’s plenty of room for definitive statements and superlative-laden descriptions when talking about fruit crisps. So I’ll make several resolute declarations which I can cater on the spot to my captive audience of one.

Then just as they try to slink off to refill their glass, go to the bathroom, or in extreme cases get their coats and run. I’ll shock them into silence and tell them a fruit crisp is dunce-cap simple. You don’t even need a recipe. Though I just happen to have one with me. GREG

Holiday Pear-Cranberry Crisp: Small Talk

Holiday Pear-Cranberry Crisp 

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Published
Pear-Cranberry Crisp


  • ½ cup (plus 1 tablespoon) all-purpose flour (divided)
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 5 tablespoon chilled unsalted butter (cut into ½‑inch cubes)
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup dried cranberries (or to taste)
  • boiling water (as needed)
  • 1 tablespoon liqueur or brandy (fruit or nuts flavors work well)
  • 5 medium fresh pears (about 2 pounds, peeled, cored and cut into ½‑cubes)
  • 2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (or to taste)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or to taste)
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg (or to taste)
  • 1 pinch ground allspice (or to taste)


Place ½ cup flour and brown sugar in a food processor, pulse until well combined. Add the cubed butter and chopped walnuts and continue to pulse until a sandy is formed. Both the walnuts and butter should have plenty of coarse texture. Refrigerate ⅓ hour or up to 2 days until ready to use.

To continue, place the dried cranberries in a small heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water; set aside until the fruit plumps, about 30 minutes. Drain the water and add liqueur.

Place the fresh fruit and the dried fruit (and any unabsorbed liquid) in a large bowl; toss with lemon juice and vanilla extract. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon flour, granulated sugar, and spices on top; toss again. Let the mixture sit undisturbed for about 30 minutes. This will draw out the juices and marinate the fruit with flavor.

Meanwhile, place the oven rack in the middle position and preheat to 400 degrees F. 

Gently toss the fruit mixture and spoon it into a 1 ½ to 2‑quart shallow baking dish. Crumble the cold nut topping evenly over the fruit, covering edge to edge. Bake until the topping is crisp and the fruit is bubbly visibly about 30 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature.