American as Cobbler

The expression "American as apple pie" is indelibly ingrained in our brains. Remember the "baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet" commercials? But really, if you want to get down to the nitty gritty, the expression has been around only since the 1960s (according to "America in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped America" by David K. Barnhart and Allan A. Metcalf), a relatively short time in the pie world.

cobbler
The anatomy of a cobbler. (Kim O'Donnel)

The reason I bring up pie in a cobbler blog is because pie predates cobbler by a few hundred years - it was born in England, it seems, during the Middle Ages. When the English settled on this side of the Atlantic, they quickly began baking their beloved pies, but with a twist.

Enter the cobbler. (check this link for recipe details)

"Without the resources of brick ovens...colonial cooks often made cobblers -- also called slumps or grunts -- and their cousins, pandowdies, in pots over an open fire," according to "The Oxford Encyclopedia of food and Drink in America, Volume 2."

"In these types of pies, a filling made of fruit, meat or vegetable goes into a pot first; then a skin of dough is placed over the filling, followed by the pot's lid. As cobblers cook, the filling stews and creates its own sauce and gravy, while the pastry puffs up and dries."

So, really, we should change the expression to "as American as cobbler" - right?

There is something resourceful and ingenious about the cobbler. Made with a fraction of the flour required for a loaf of bread and with fruits and berries that Native Americans had been eating for centuries, the cobbler was a way to sustain and nourish several mouths at a time.

So, I argue that making a cobbler at the height of summer produce season is in keeping with this few-centuries-old tradition. Peaches are in their prime, and blackberries keep showing their beautiful plump selves at local farmer's markets. I couldn't resist mixing the two fruits together.

I used what I had -- a mix of white and yellow peaches -- and because they were so ripe, the skins yielded easily with the force of my fingers. The fruit is sweet, so I reduced the sugar amount by half recommended in the above-linked recipe. (If this is of interest, do try the fruit first to get a sweetness gauge.)

I added a little cinnamon, grated nutmeg and chopped crystallized ginger to perk up the mix, as well as a shot of dark rum. (completely optional)

It's a good idea to allow fruit to sit and talk together for about 15 minutes, allowing for their natural juices to release.

The topping is made of cream biscuits, and it's so easy I made it with one hand, while talking on the phone. The heavy cream acts as a tenderizer and yields a very tender biscuit. It's crisp and dry on the top, yet on the inside, soft and absorbent like a good pillow when it meets the baked fruit.

The result always yields oohs and aahs from fellow sweet-tooths, but I think there's something more to the cobbler than meets the dessert vulture's eye.

The cobbler is simple. It's homey, nothin' fancy. It cuts across socio-economic lines and is eaten in red and blue states alike. Its history is one of immigrant innovative spirit. How's that for American?

What's your favorite cobbler? Share in the comments area below.

By Kim ODonnel |  August 11, 2006; 10:27 AM ET  | Category:  Desserts , Seasonal Produce
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Kim, Thanks for the cobbler history lesson. Every summer yy southern husband begs weekly for my peach cobbler. My topping recipe is very similar, except I cut butter into the flour, add baking soda, and use half buttermilk/half cream. The results are a wetter batter that puffs up beautifully. I will try rum and ginger in the fruit next time. Thanks!

Posted by: Janet in Sacramento | August 11, 2006 02:08 PM

Kim, I love my grandmother's cuppa cuppa cuppa cobbler recipe. I make it for every summer gathering. I tend to go more multi berry than peach, because I like my peaches fresh off the trees.

Cobbler:

1 box of generic yellow cake mix
1 cuppa butter (a bit Paula Deen there;-))
1 cuppa milk
1 cuppa of blueberries, blackberries, peaches whatev!
Cook at 350 for 30-40 mins until the top become light golden brown.

Serve with love and Vanilla Blue Bell Ice Cream!

Posted by: Atlanta | August 11, 2006 02:21 PM

Cobbler - yum! I love berry cobblers of just about any variety. Made some to take to a committee meeting and have taken one to each meeting since then as it "sweetens the deal" and seems to set everyone in a great mood for collaboration. We wipe the dish clean by the end of the meeting, and finish our agenda, too. Blackberry peach sounds pretty wonderful, now, will have to see what's available at the farmers' market in the morning.

Posted by: Columbia | August 11, 2006 03:06 PM

I've made Mark Bittman's cobbler recipe from "How to Cook Everything" so many times I can't keep track. It is by far my favorite cobbler recipe. The crust is VERY buttery and simple -- it's a pretty wet dough, dropped onto the top of the fruit. I use about half the sugar that is called for. Fresh peaches and blackberries are definitely my favorites for cobbler.

Posted by: Kalorama | August 11, 2006 03:09 PM

I add a half teaspoon of almond extract to my peach cobbler. Farmer's market day is tomorrow--I need to set my alarm!

Posted by: julie | August 11, 2006 11:03 PM

I've been reveling in blueberry cobbler for the last few weeks. I use the recipe in "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" by Deborah Madison. I use a combination of butter and oil in the topping; note, if you use oil, reduce the buttermilk a bit so the topping isn't too loose. I also use all whole wheat pastry flour for a little more flavor. Final note, with the native berries, I don't find it necessary to add the lemon juice or molasses suggested. With blander berries in the past, though, I have used the lemon juice to perk them up. As you suggest, taste the mixture to see what it needs ...

Posted by: Theresa | August 14, 2006 12:43 PM

I made a peach-blackberry-strawberry cobbler the other day. My recipe:

Two large peaches, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup blackberries
1 cup chopped strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter square baking dish. Toss fruit, sugar, and 2 tablespoons flour in large bowl to combine. Transfer to prepared baking dish. Bake fruit, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven. Increase oven temperature to 400°F.

Whisk remaining 3/4 cup flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add butter and rub in with fingertips until small moist clumps form. Sprinkle topping evenly over hot fruit in dish.

Bake about 20 minutes. Cool slightly. Serve warm with ice cream (I used Haagen Dazs' Caramel Cone ice cream -- a great pairing).

Posted by: MJ | August 14, 2006 05:42 PM

Kim, I posted this question on the recipe page, but I'll also ask here: how big of a baking dish does your cobbler recipe require? I suspect my dish may be too small.

Posted by: Denise S. | August 16, 2006 07:00 PM

Hi Denise, I've used a 9-inch dish and sometimes an 8-incher, for baking. If you've got something that's half this size, you could try halfing the recipe. Cheers.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | August 17, 2006 01:58 PM

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