It is the feather duvet of desserts. The pudding world's hand-knitted tea cosy. A great big hug of fruit, fat and sugar (best served with more fat and sugar). We're talking Apple Crumble and its soulmate, icecream.

Think winter, think crumble. The poor man's apple pie was born of hard times, allegedly popularised during World War II, when pantry staples were rationed and a "crumble" topping used fewer ingredients than pastry.

Dunedin-based food historian and anthropologist Helen Leach says that in the United States, it was called Apple Crisp. She's found American recipes for what Kiwis would recognise as crumble dating back to 1915, and suspects the first versions found their way here under the "Apple Crisp" moniker.

Indeed, Paperspast - National Library's searchable treasure trove of local newspapers - turns up a recipe for Apple Crisp in a 1939 Cromwell Argus. But a year later, readers of the Press are urged to "try this unusual recipe" for a dish the advertiser dubs "Apple Crumble".

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To crumble an apple a la 1940: Peel, core and slice two pounds of fruit. Stew with 3TB each of golden syrup and minced, preserved ginger. Pour into a buttered pie dish and cool. Cover with a crumble made from a tablespoon of butter rubbed into a small cup of self-raising flour and half a cup of brown sugar. Add a thick sprinkling of desiccated coconut and bake for 25 minutes in a moderate oven.

Coconut?! Self-raising flour?! Crumble has always been controversial. Alison Holst, for example, eschewed the stew, and, in the 1980s, simply grated unpeeled fresh apples into her pie pan. Her topping included oats - a practice that, in this writer's opinion, means you can legitimately eat the leftovers for breakfast. Icecream optional.