Sailor & Galley: Chasing Away the Fog With a Tart Cherry Crumble

The baking crumble filled the salon with the buttery aroma of fruit and cinnamon, transforming our chilly cabin into a warm, cozy refuge.

Jean with provisions en route to Opus
Jean Kerr with provisions heading out to Opus, her 1953 28-foot, Ralph Winslow-designed, Maine-built sloop. Courtesy Jean Kerr

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Fog is a fact of life along the Maine coast, where my husband, Bud, and I cruise Opus, our 28-foot wood sloop. One day, we were anchored in the Barred Islands, a small archipelago in Penobscot Bay. It was isolated, beautiful and peaceful. We’d awakened early to a world of cottony gray, with fog so thick that visibility was reduced to near zero. A fine mist seemed to permeate everything, including our bones. 

Sailing in fog isn’t especially dangerous if you’re paying close attention to your navigation, but it can be nerve-wracking and tedious. At the time, we didn’t have a reliable radar aboard—and we were, after all, on vacation. We decided to stay put until the pea soup lifted, likely in a few hours.

For extended vacation cruising, we usually opt for Penobscot Bay because (to quote A Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast) if you “dream of perfect cruising grounds, of islands large and small…of intriguing harbors and ­alluring towns, of lonely ­outposts lost in time…that place is Penobscot Bay.”  

We’d departed our home port of Kittery Point, Maine, on an extended summer cruise in search of all of the above, plus a few reunions with old friends in ports along our route. Fog was a familiar foe; our record for fogbound days one previous summer was nine out of 14 days. We knew that with the dampness permeating everything aboard, life would be a bit uncomfortable till the sun came out again.

Opus is a true coastal-­Maine sloop, designed by Ralph Winslow and built in Camden in 1953. When we discovered her for sale from a boatbuilding school in Rockport in 1984, her hull was sound, but she needed ­significant refurbishing and repair. Fortunately, Bud is a boatbuilder by trade, so tackling all this was well within his wheelhouse. We bought her and lovingly brought her back to life. 

Among her classic charms is a tiny coal stove complete with Charlie Noble pipe on the cabin top, which we use for both cooking and heat (even in summer, Maine can be chilly). Because we were growing damper by the minute, we decided to fire it up. It was a good time to get busy in the galley and bake something quick and easy that would lift our spirits and help kill the chill.

It was a good time to get busy in the galley and bake something quick and easy that would lift our spirits and kill the chill.

We always carry plenty of staple dry stores aboard when cruising; I had some canned cherry pie filling, as well as sugar and flour. I had butter in the fridge. Making pie crust has never been my favorite galley activity, so I decided on an easy and relatively quick alternative: cherry crumble. It’s perfect for boat cooks with a sweet tooth who don’t want to spend a lot of time creating elaborate desserts. 

Crumbles (also called crisps or cobblers) are also ideal for cruisers because any fruit—canned pie filling, frozen fruit or fresh fruit—will work. Apples, peaches, cherries or berries are always a good bet. 

As the crumble baked, we were warmed in more ways than one. The baking crumble filled the salon with a delicious, buttery aroma, transforming our dank, chilly quarters into a warm, cozy refuge. 

A bit later, as often ­happens in New England, the fog vanished as fast as it had descended. The sun burned it off, revealing a bright day. We weighed anchor and sailed west for a prearranged reunion with friends in Camden. Later that evening, they came aboard for a grilled-steak dinner followed by my fogbound crumble. The verdict was unanimous: utterly delicious.

Fogbound Cherry Crumble (serves 6)

Overhead of fogbound cherry crumble
Fogbound Cherry Crumble Lynda Morris Childress
  • 1 can (21 oz.) cherry pie filling
  • 1 cup flour
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar, packed*
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon (optional)
  • ½ tsp. salt (optional)8 Tbsp. butter

*Use white sugar if you don’t have brown sugar.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8-by-8-inch baking dish, and spread fruit evenly over the bottom. 

In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar(s), cinnamon and salt. Mix well. 

Melt butter (alternatively, use cold butter, diced). Add butter to dry ­ingredients. Stir and blend with a fork or your hands. This should result in a slightly dry, crumbly mixture. With your hands, sprinkle the topping evenly over the pie filling. 

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbly at the edges and the crumble turns golden (check after 15 minutes). Allow to cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature, plain or topped with a dollop of whipped cream, yogurt, or ice cream. Garnish with fresh mint leaves if available.

Cook’s Notes: If using fresh fruit, use firm pieces. Slice if needed. Mix with 1 teaspoon lemon juice and 2 teaspoons cornstarch. Depending on the fruit’s natural sweetness, you can add up to ½ cup sugar along with the cornstarch. If using frozen fruit, don’t thaw. Increase cornstarch to 2 or 3 tablespoons.

Prep time: 40 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Can be made: At anchor or underway

Jean Kerr is the author of The Mystic Cookbook: Recipes, History and Seafaring Lore (Globe Pequot, 2018).

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