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Baking

Easy Peach Cobbler

Well, I was raised up / Beneath the shade of a Georgia pine / And that’s home you know / Sweet tea, pecan pie and homemade wine / Where the peaches grow — “Chicken Fried” by Zac Brown Band

July is halfway over, and that means Prunus Persica are everywhere.  I live in the Palmetto State, which is a total misnomer.  Yes, we have lots of Palmetto trees–and don’t you dare call them palm trees–you find those tall things out in California or on a beach in Hawaii.  A more proper name might be the Peach State.  Yes, I know Georgia has that dubious distinction, however, South Carolina produces waaaayyyyyy more peaches than our neighbor to the south.  The best the state peach council could come up with was “The Tastier Peach State.”  I’ll buy that.  Although they are grown all over the state, we have two distinct peach towns–Gaffney and Gilbert.  Use Google, folks.  Ask it to show you the “Peachoid.”

We would make a trip to the local peach orchard and pluck ’em from the tree ourselves in a bushel basket on which my grandfather had scrawled his name in a marker.  I remember the folks who owned the orchard weren’t keen on keeping the grass under the trees cut so my grandmother made us wear hunting boots and long pants (in July!) to protect us from snake bites.  I later realized this was a cover crop of sorts to keep beneficial insects around to help with pollination and insect control.  The folks who weren’t about to get dirty out in the field could buy them in neat little paper bags with handles from the roadside stand.  I remember having to peel a seemingly endless mound of these drupes with a butter knife to make peach cobbler with and was always forewarned with the dreaded “You get that juice on your clothes, they’ll turn brown and you’ll never get it out!”

My grandmother made a very crusty and crunchy peach cobbler–lots of texture, with drop-style dumplings plopped on top of the fruit and baked.  The whole thing was very firm and not as wet as I like it–I prefer a risen, pancake-like texture and a very soupy fruit base that is spooned over the ice cream in your bowl.  What can I say? I break traditions.

Peach Tidbits:

  • Peaches originated in China and across this continent by the Native Americans.
  • Drupes, including peaches, are classified as either clingstone or freestone, which refers to the ability of the pit to be removed by hand vs. being cut from the flesh.  In the peach world, the first harvests are usually clingstones.  As the fruits mature, it’s easier to remove the pit.
  • Yellow peaches are just as sweet as white peaches but more acidic.  White peaches are a creamy pink color with a white flesh and you simply must eat these like an apple to enjoy the flavor, which is reminiscent of honey and vanilla.
  • Nectarines are a peach cultivar, only smooth skinned vs the velvety texture of what we consider peaches.
  • To store peaches, leave them at room temperature or if it’s especially hot, by the air vent from your air conditioner.  Never store them in the refrigerator, it speeds up the ripening process and you’ll have brown mush.
  • To prepare for long-term storage, peel and slice peaches and place into zip-top bags with a tablespoon of lemon juice and a tablespoon of sugar and then freeze.

Let’s get started with the peach cobbler, shall we?  I’m not about to whip out a knife and torture myself like all those years ago by trying to peel something with thin flesh.  Looking back, we probably lost half the peach doing it that way.  We’re going to get a little medieval on our little red-yellow friends here.  You’ll need about 8-10 medium peaches for a 13×9 cobbler.
If your sink isn’t clean enough to eat off of, like mine, frantically clean it before you can take the photo and then plug it with the stopper.  Lower your P.Persica friends to await their fate.  If you want to cut an x in the bottom of each peach, you can.  I didn’t.
Pour the boiling water on your little friends and wait a few minutes for the skins to soften.  They may even split to make for easy removal.  If you’re quick thinking, grab a towel and drape it over your head and lower your face to the water for a steam facial.  Ah, multitasking!  Because I don’t enjoy being burned, I drained the boiling water and re-filled the sink with cold to peel them directly into the sink.
I took a white dish towel I didn’t care about and “wiped” the skins off of the peaches.  The towel turned pink and purple.  My hands remained hand-colored.  Whew.  Then, we slice.  Cut around the peach and see if you can pry it into two halves.  If not, start segmenting slices from it until it comes apart and you can remove the pit.  Plant it if you have 20 years to wait on a tree to grow.  If not, just discard.
Everyone into the pool – I could have taken about 2 peaches worth out and still been fine.  Turn the flame to medium-high.
Add a cup of granulated sugar and a tablespoon of lemon juice.  It doesn’t have to be fancy fresh-squeezed–you can use the little lemon-shaped squeezy bottle.
Add cinnamon and nutmeg, to taste.  Please, I beg of you, grind your own nutmeg–it’s worth it.  That dust stuff in the store just isn’t holy.
Simmer this for any where from 10-20 minutes to get the peaches soft.  The smells will be amazing and everyone in your home will float along the aroma trail in the air and land on their feet at your stove.  If your window is open, birds will perch and sing and perhaps a deer will emerge from the forest to let you feed it by hand.
Let’s prepare the dry team – combine another cup of sugar, a cup of all-purpose flour, pinch of salt, tablespoon of baking powder and more cinnnannnannnumum in a nice shiny bowl.  Separately, pour a cup of milk and set it aside.
Here’s the set up if you’re going to bake this as dessert after a meal.  Peaches?  Check.  Dry team? Check.  Milk?  Check.  Baking dish and butter? Check.  A few minutes before guests arrive, pre-heat the oven to 375F and shove the baking dish and stick of butter in it.  We’re going to use the warm-up heat to melt the entire stick of butter.  When you serve the meal, excuse yourself and dump the milk into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Lumps are okay.  Open the oven door, pull the rack out with the pan on it and dump the batter directly on to the melted butter.  Don’t stir!  Then, grab some mitts and pour the peaches directly on to the batter.  Again, don’t stir!  Close the oven door and use the next 40 minutes to have a fabulous meal with fabulous people.  Or have a gross meal with disgusting people.  Your life is your own, folks.
As this bakes, the baking powder’s chemical reaction gets a rise out of the batter which rises to the top and browns.  Your guests, whether they be fabulous or disgusting will want to rise from their chairs and follow the aroma.  Do not allow this, force them to remain seated and drool with glazed eyes until the 40 minutes is up.  You can fill extra time by whipping out pictures of the grandkids or talking about the weather.  Serve this piping hot with scoops of plain, simple vanilla ice cream and wait for the rave reviews and begging for the recipe.  Barter the recipe for shoes, of course.

Easy Peach Cobbler
Adapted from Southern Living Magazine
yield: 13×9 dish or 8 servings

5 cups sliced peaches (8-10 medium)
2 cups granulated sugar, separated
1 stick unsalted butter
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup low-fat milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
pinch salt
cinnamon and nutmeg, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Peel peaches by submerging in boiling water and wiping skins away. Pit and slice peaches into a large saucepot with 1 cup of sugar and 1 tbsp of lemon juice. Add cinnamon and nutmeg to taste and stir to combine and cook over medium-high heat for 10-20 minutes or until peaches are softened. Place 13×9 baking dish in the preheating oven with the stick of butter and allow the butter to melt. Combine the dry ingredients–flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and more cinnamon in a bowl and add one cup of milk. Stir until just combined. Remove the baking dish from the oven and pour the batter over the melted butter. Do not stir! Then, pour the peaches over the batter. Again, do not stir! Return to the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and let cool for a few minutes before serving over vanilla ice cream.

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