Past the four am to noontime farm chores I loved to stop and smell the fresh-cut hay and hear the long drawn out cadence of the cicadas
. Somewhere a screen door creaks and slams. A horse whickers lazily from the stable. The murmuring conversation on the front porch erupts into good-natured laughter. Rowdy the yard dog barks in the distance from my grandparents place, probably with his nose on the trail of some wily rabbit.
The kitchen was not last but center. The place where company preferred to sit around the large gold-flecked Formica topped table. Standing near the phone hanging on the wall, its cord looped like the braids of my curly hair. My aunt crashing around in the pots and pans looking for the right pan for cobbler or cookies, meringue pie or twice-baked potatoes. Batter on a spoon, popping sounds of oil, smells that made my mouth wet with waiting, cakes fluffy and high cooling on the counter, my uncle’s fresh egged omelets, and later his sliced tomatoes in a marinade for salad. Unwinding at Aunt Barbara’s includes an ovenload of homemade, homegrown, cobbler that has been set piping hot on the sill to cool with its fragrant fruit bubbling with sweet juice through a tender crust.
Of course, as with anything so dearly beloved in the South, a cobbler is a first cousin to deep-dish pie. Most involve a rich biscuit dough and baked with fruit either under it or over it. Some recipes will use pie dough, dough crumbs and even cake batter. It’s typically served with a rich cream sauce, hard sauce or sweetened butters. My favorite is fresh hot blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream and my favorite time to eat it is for breakfast.
Cobblers are no-fail crowd pleasers some of the more unusual recipes highlight such fruits as mangoes and raspberries and kiwis and pears and the middle of spring is the sweetest time of the year to begin making them.
What these fruit-and-dough delights are called depends on whom you are asking. But more often than not, a cobbler is fruit, baked with a crust on top. Guesses among the food historians propose that since they are easy, cobblers and related fruit desserts were handed down orally for years before they were ever recorded. The Kentucky Housewife written in 1839 is one of the earliest known references in print where Lettice Bryan talks about a peach potpie saying, "Although it is not a fashionable pie for company, it is very excellent for family use, with cold sweet milk." However times have changed and in this need it in a jiffy era, anything so tasty and quick to fix is trendy.
It is always a promising sight to spy eight large peaches sitting on the picnic table waiting to be blanched. All it takes is one good recipe. And sometimes, the occasion calls for the classic. Aunt Barbara never combines anything with peaches. She uses them fresh off her tree. This is a classic fruit cobbler recipe borrowed from her, and for the most part, she simply varies the six cups of fruit. The only fruit that absolutely will not work are oranges. A good rule of thumb to follow is, the sweeter the fruit, the less sugar needed. If the fruit is very sweet or has a distinctive flavor, such as mangoes, you may want to cut the sugar in the dough as well.
Any Fruit Cobbler
All of these fruits are good under cobbler crusts. Serve plain or with lightly whipped cream.
1 and 3/4 th cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 /2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, chilled and in pieces
½ cup sugar
3/4 cup cream
6 cups fresh fruit
Sugar, for sweetening fruit
Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir with a fork to blend. Put the pieces of chilled butter into the flour mixture and rub quickly with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the sugar and lightly blend.
Using a fork, slowly stir in the cream until roughly mixed. Gather the dough into a shaggy mass and knead 5-6 times. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a rectangular or oval baking dish (a 9 x 13-inch or 13-inch oval of at least 3-quart capacity). Sweeten the fruit to taste and put in the prepared pan.
Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface, to the size of the top of the baking dish. Place on top of the fruit mixture. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the crust comes out clean.
There are several hypotheticals about the beginnings of the baked ‘cobbler.’ The first is a rather uninspired one about a cobbler or his wife baking the original. Many prefer the theory that includes one of the ingredients mentioned—the layers of dumplings
. They make conjectures with pictured comparisons of the desert to cobblestone
pavements and how it looks similar to the thick and uneven crust on top. Take Our Word for it asks:
So what does a pie-like dish have to do with shoes or stones? Well, it's actually the latter to which the pie is related, or so some etymologists think. Cobbler is made with fruit and chunks of dough, sort of a lazy-man's pie, and those chunks of dough, forming the top crust of the dessert, might be see to resemble the rounded surface of a cobbled road. If that is the case, then cobbler and cobblestones are related, deriving from the word cob "rounded lump". Interestingly, there is a dish in the western part of England called apple cobs, which consists of apples wrapped in dough and baked. That's not so far from the American cobbler.
In 1287, cobelere described "one who mends shoes" and no one seems to knows its origin, but it was used to describe the cobblers as repairers or maker of shoes and frequently of other leather goods. By the end of the 16th century it could also depict one that does clumsy or coarse work, as in someone who a botches things. During the early 19th century it became known as a tall drink that consists usually of wine and sugar. Traditionally these wine coolers are served in goblets with finely shaved ice. Over the ice pour two jiggers of Port, claret, Burgandy, Rhine wine or Sauternes. Add to that ½ jigger of each of Cognac and Curacao. Stir gently to blend well and garnish the drink with fruits and a fresh sprig of mint. Whisky or rum may be substituted for the wine.
Some etymologists say that it is perhaps related to a 14th century word cobeler meaning "wooden bowl." Still it wasn’t until 1859 that a cobbler meaning a deep-dish fruit pie arose in the United States. According to food historians, fruit cobbler is a marriage of European tradition and American ingenuity. They explain “cobbler originated in the American West during the second half of the 19th century. It was a deep-dish thick, quick crust filled with whatever fruit was on hand. Necessity required westward-bound pioneer cooks to adapt traditional oven-baked pie recipes to quick biscuit treats that could be cooked in Dutch ovens.”
The Dictionary of Americanisms traces the first example of the word cobbler referred to a pie dish in print to twenty years after Mrs. Bryan the Kentucky housewife wrote about her peach pot pie. It was defined as "Cobbler...a sort of pie, baked in a pot lined with dough of great thickness, upon which fruit is placed." A cookbook from 1967 says "cobbler", such as Apple Cobbler, is from "cobble up - meaning to mix in a hurry"
One thing they all have in common when it comes to the beginnings of fruit cobblers is that the earliest ones were baked with a biscuit dough crust inside a deep pan, filled with a mixture of berries, fresh-churned butter, sugar and spices with layers of dumplings and covered with a cinnamon-coated crust. The epitome of the Southern dessert it's just so good in its purest form. What a splendid way to celebrate the golden days of summer.
Food Timeline history notes:
Rombauer, Irma S., Rombauer Becker , Marion. Joy of Cooking1975, p 660.
The Gourmet Cookbook Volume II, 1968, pg 27.
New York City, New York: Gourmet Distributing Corporation 196
New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary:
Take Our Word For It: