Monday, August 20, 2007

Cast Iron Peach Cobbler

I spent this past week in the mountains of Southwestern Pennsylvania, in the tiny, tiny village of Springs, just a mile north of the Maryland border in Somerset County. It is a heavily Amish area, so that driving down the highway often involves waiting behind a buggy until you reach a spot where the road straightens sufficiently to let you pass. It's gorgeous up there, and it's a great place to decompress for a week and either think about nothing or try not to dread the fact that in two short weeks you'll be driving your oldest child off to college. You know, as the case may be.

Anyway, I was up there with the girls and my parents, who live there during the summer. Time being a thing that moves in only one direction, my parents are not as young as they were, and this fact becomes more noticeable with each passing year. And with each year it becomes less and less clear that they'll continue to make the trek northward for the summer. I will not be overly surprised if next year they decide not to leave Florida, though I continue to hope that they'll defer that decision for a few more years.

We spent a fair amount of time sitting around the table, all playing cards. I tried not to overburden my mother with cooking, so we most often ate breakfast out (if you're in that area of the country, breakfast is really the meal you want to eat out; you can find a good breakfast almost anywhere there; the other meals, not so much), then I took the girls off to do something during the day, and we'd come home for dinner. On Friday, my mother made breakfast because we were planning to go out to an all-you-can-eat (always a mistake) fish fry (always a mistake in the mountains). But later in the day, they were feeling too unwell to go out, so I volunteered to make dinner.

Part of making dinner involved reheating corn on the cob that had been cooked days earlier yet was (miraculously!) still delicious. And another part involved slicing some cucumbers and dicing some tomatoes and mixing them with mayonnaise and garlic powder and salt and pepper and vinegar to make a messy but delicious salad. And yet another part of dinner involved defrosting some large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, slicing them into thinner pieces, salting and peppering them, and browning them in a bit of olive oil. Then I finished off the dish by (I am not making this up) deglazing the pan with balsamic vinegar, adding a can of cream of mushroom soup, adding a half-can's worth of milk and another half-can's worth of water, and then stirring in a couple of cups of leftover mashed potatoes. When it was all bubbling nicely, I put the chicken breasts back in to finish cooking through. I am officially prohibited from endorsing any recipe that involves a can of cream of mushroom (or any other, really) soup, but the result was undeniably delicious. And, you know, sometimes you've got to work with what's available.

Also available were some peaches that were destined to go bad if I didn't use them up. My father had bought several pounds before we arrived, and we'd done our best to get through them, but they were only good peaches, not the sort of peaches that one dreams about. Mom had been planning to make a pie, but she wasn't going to get around to it (she'd made other pie during the week; her crusts are so good that I weep with envy). On Friday morning, Dad took me to the wholesale produce auction that happens twice a week about a mile from their house. Some of the white peaches there looked like the sort of thing one dreams about, but I would have had to buy four pecks, which seemed, well, optimistic.

Anyway, I'd been staring longingly at my mother's three cast-iron skillets (I've written about my cast iron envy before) all week, and I thought that a peach cobbler was just the thing to combine my desires to cook with a skillet seasoned over decades and to use the ripe peaches. This particular cobbler is a bit of a cross with a tarte tatin. As it happens, the bottom was sufficiently caramelized and the filling sufficiently solid that I could have unmolded the whole thing and made upside down peach cobbler, but that seemed needlessly showy.

The amount of milk added to the dough here is really very much your preference. You could add less and roll the dough out like rolled biscuits, or you could add more and just pour it like batter. I opted for something that was just a bit too wet to roll out, and I spooned blobs of it over the simmering peaches, figuring (correctly) that the heat from the pan and the oven would even it out. The dough layer may have been a tad thicker than I would have liked, but it was light and tasty, so I didn't mind. If I'd had more peaches, I would likely have used the same amount of dough to cover a cobbler made in a ten-inch skillet.

You want to serve this cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Served thusly, it will comfort anyone who can be comforted.

Peach Cobbler

Four or five ripe medium peaches
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 t. ground cloves
2 t. tapioca
Pinch salt

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 T. granulated sugar
Pinch salt
4 T. butter, melted
Milk, approximately 1/2 cup

2 T. butter
2 T. brown sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Peel and slice the peaches. Put them in a bowl with the 1/4 c. sugar, the cloves, the tapioca, and the pinch of salt. Mix and let sit while you prepare the dough.

In a separate bowl combine the flour, oats, 2 T. sugar, and another pinch of salt. Mix well. Pour on the melted butter and mix again. Stir in milk until you have something that is the consistency of drop biscuits.

In an eight-inch cast iron skillet, melt the butter, tilting the pan to coat the sides. Add the butter, and stir to distribute evenly across the bottom of the pan. Cook over medium heat until the sugar begins to caramelize. Pour in the peaches and let cook for a minute or two. Spoon the batter over the peaches, then transfer to the oven.

Bake until well browned, about twenty-five to thirty minutes.


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