Why? Is it the sound made when eating? The response from some otherwise occupied recipient when baker calls across the house ” hon, I’m making dessert, what are you in the mood for?” “Grunt!” Wait, it gets better. If this exchange took place in Vermont, Maine or Rhode Island, grunt becomes slump. Seriously, a slump. Apparently dessert has bad posture in parts of New England, as opposed to just poor language skills.
How do I know this? Gleaned the other day perusing the history of cobblers (and yes, I need to get a life.) Whilst reading The History and Legends of Cobbler, Crisps, Crumbles, Brown Betty, Buckles, Grunts and Slumps (stop judging me…it’s bad enough I’m admitting to this stuff), I stumbled upon the evolution of what is basically stewed seasonal fruit topped with an amalgam of flour, sugar and butter. Apparently it all started as pudding. As in the English folk’s use of the word “pudding”, or dessert. Which isn’t actually pudding, though pudding can be “pudding”. Anyway…
Cobbler, crisp, crumble, brown betty, buckle, grunt, and slump are all wonderfully tasting and pitifully named desserts that feature glorious and abundant seasonal fruit, wrapped in or tucked under baked goodness with the sole purpose of sopping up sweet juices. I won’t bore you with the history of these things (I’m assuming you DO have a life), but I will tell you that most if not all cobbler-esque fare was born of modest means. These are not the lofty, precious, elaborately crafted desserts likely to populate bakery cases. These are the homey things you make when you really want something sweet and wonderful but don’t have much in the house other than fridge and pantry staples.
Think of these simple and simply lovely confections as pie for the piecrust-intimidated. I know many bakers out there who wouldn’t attempt to roll their own, but will happily dive in up to their wrists in cobbler craft. And why not? It really is one of the easiest and most beloved desserts you can whip up yourself. Baking, with training wheels. So since it’s that time of year, a pint of berries is finally cheap and the “ugly” peaches even cheaper, go ahead and cobbler to your heart’s content. I promise any grunts you hear will be soaked in pure joy. 🙂
Names and geography aside, that list I rattled off above are really just versions of cobbler, and the versions and preferences of such vary as much as ridiculous names and personal tastes. Some recipes call for melting the butter in pan, topping with sugar and fruit, and pouring a cakey batter on top, which settles between all the delicious fruit crannies and nooks as it bakes. Others call for drop or cut biscuits as a topping. Still others offer a crumble of sugar, butter, flour. All are swell, but my personal preferences run with the drop biscuit top. I also skip the cornstarch or flour thickener in with the fruit. There’s nothing that ruins my cobbler experience more than gluey fruit on the bottom. Let the juices flow I say. It gives those biscuits on top something to sop, and extra juices drizzled over ice cream is sublime.
The recipe below is based on the one in Matt and Ted Lee’s cookbook, The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern. I liked it because it featured cornmeal in the topping, and well, Southerners know their peach cobbler, so why mess with that. I’ve given you their recipe pretty much as written, with my comments in italics (because kibitzing is best when italicized.)
CORNMEAL DROP-BISCUIT PEACH COBBLER RECIPE (Adapted from The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern – Clarkson Potter, 2009)
Serves 4 to 6
For the peach filling
- 2 pounds (6 to 7) ripe freestone peaches, unpeeled, pitted, and cut into slices – about 6 cups.(Works with other fruit too, and I especially like to toss in some blueberries, raspberries or blackberries if I have them. You can peel the peaches if you like, I don’t bother, and I don’t really care if they are freestone or not – freestone is easier, but the other is often less expensive so use whatever you have access to.)
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar, depending on your peaches and your sweet tooth. (Taste your fruit, then decide how much sugar – I alway err on the side of less sugar, tarter fruit, especially if this is accompanies by vanilla ice cream, as it should be.)
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces (my addition, you’ll see why later)
For the biscuit dough
- 3/4 cup (3 ounces) sifted all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup fine stone-ground cornmeal (yellow or white)
- 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon table salt or fine sea salt
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces, plus more for the baking dish
- 1/2 cup buttermilk (whole or low-fat), cold
- 1 teaspoon orange zest (optional)
- A teaspoon or two of sugar to sprinkle over the biscuit dough
Make the Filling:
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Butter a 2-quart ovenproof dish. Add the peaches, brown sugar, lemon juice, water (if using), cinnamon, and salt and toss until the peaches are evenly coated. Dot the top of the fruit with that extra tablespoon butter. (My mom always does this with pies and strudel, and there can’t be anything wrong with a little extra buttah.) Forget about it for 10 minutes or so while you prep the drop-biscuit dough.
Make the drop-biscuit dough
Sift together the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and cut it into the flour by pinching small amounts of the mixture together between your fingertips.
Do this until the mixture resembles coarse meal with pea-size pieces of butter mixed throughout. Add the buttermilk and stir with a rubber spatula just until a tacky, wet dough comes together. This should take no more than a few seconds.
Gently plop spoonfuls of the biscuit dough on top of the peach filling or, if the dough is too sticky to plop, simply spread it unevenly. The dough should be patchy and should not cover the entire surface of the filling. Sprinkle over a teaspoon or two of sugar over the dough – gives it a nice crunchy texture.
Bake until the syrup is bubbly and the biscuit top is alluringly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. (I LOVE that description! I’m using that from now on…”alluringly browned.”)
Let cool slightly before you scoop the warm cobbler into small dessert bowls, ramekins, even cocktail glasses. Top with some vanilla ice cream, and grunt to your heart’s content! Calories: approximately 275, without the ice cream.
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