THE Peach Cobbler

The best peach cobbler I have ever had was in Canton, Texas, while visiting my aunt Trish the Thanksgiving after my mom died. My dad and I flew out to her big ranch house to be surrounded by extended family for Thanksgiving, but we were still miserable. But Canton, Texas is famous for their big flea market, where you can buy braided rugs and rocking chairs and wooden toys, barbecue, burgers, and beer. My aunt introduced me to shoo-fly pie and fried pickles, and bought a hand-crank apple peeler. I loved it all, but my dad and I were misty-eyed, thinking of how much my mom would have loved it, and missing her.

There was a peach stand there, run by a farmer couple and their teenaged daughter, who was dressed exactly like Ellie May Clampett. We bought peach cobbler and ate it with disposable wooden spoons, the flat kind that come in those little ice cream cups they used to sell at neighborhood swimming pools. It was hard to eat with the little paddle, and a little heavy on the cinnamon, but it was still warm and they served it with vanilla ice cream from a churn. I fell in love. It was good enough to make my dad forget for a few minutes that he was sad, and exclaim, “Jiminy Cricket, this is good!”

I spent a decade trying to reconstruct that cobbler, and discovered that there are three schools of thought on peach cobbler topping. Some people like the oats and butter topping you’d find on apple crisp. Some like a spongy topping that is achieved by melting butter in a baking dish, then putting in the topping batter, and putting simmered peaches and sugar on top of the batter, so that it bakes up around and over the fruit. But the best, most authentic country recipe involves something called a “shaggy” dough, which is rustic and super easy: an egg and some buttermilk (or a little milk with vinegar in it) added to flour, sugar, and baking powder. You can whip it up quick and spread it over the peach mixture–which you do not have to cook in a pan first–and have the whole thing in the oven in minutes.

You can swap cardamom for nutmeg to give it a very slightly exotic flavor, and you can use frozen peaches but there will be more juice at the bottom. Best cobbler ever; it has the power to make you forget your troubles.

For the peach mixture: Take about 15 peaches, peel and slice them. (For the easiest peeling, blanch them in boiling water for one minute, then pull them out. When they are cool enough, the skin comes right off.) Put the sliced peaches in a casserole dish. In a small bowl, mix up a cup of sugar, 1/3 cup flour, 2 Tablespoons of corn starch, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of nutmeg OR cardamom. Mix that up with the peaches. For the topping: Mix up 2 1/2 cups flour, one cup of sugar, a teaspoon of baking powder, and a teaspoon of kosher salt. In a little bowl, mix up one egg and a half cup of butter milk, OR one egg and a half cup of cheater buttermilk (which is milk with a tsp of buttermilk per halp cup, set aside for 10 minutes before use so the milk curdles a tiny bit).

Pour the egg/buttermilk on the flour mixture and “cut” in in with two knives or a spatula, incorporating until it becomes “shaggy.” Spread it all over the peach mixture in the casserole dish, and top with one stick of cold butter, sliced into pieces. Sprinkle it with some kind of sugar and bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Serve with vanilla icecream, seriously.