This peach cobbler is quintessential Edna Lewis in all its Southern-summer deliciousness. The nutmeg sauce provides an unusual and appropriately old-fashioned accompaniment. I adapted the cobbler (mine has less sugar and less butter) from her book The Taste of Country Cooking. The recipe also appears in a slightly different form in In Pursuit of Flavor, where she remembers, “With the first juicy, sweet peaches of summer, we always made cobbler.” For Lewis, the whole point of this dessert is to taste sweet, fresh peaches–nothing else. She suggests using the sweetest fruit you can find and recommends the nutmeg Sauce, but admits that growing up, “we would just spoon the juice from the peaches up over the cobbler which is good too.”
The cobbler is well-matched with vanilla ice cream a la mode, as recommended in The Joy of Cooking, which describes cobblers as “simply deep-dish single-crusted fruit pies,” with the cruse “usually on the top, though occasionally… on the bottom.” It goes on to state, “Cobblers used to be made with pie dough, but a sweet rich biscuit dough is more common today.” Lewis’s pie-dough cobbler has the unusual aspect of both a bottom and a top crust, its slightly salty crunch intensifying the peach flavor even further. Introducing her recipe, Lewis notes, “In Virginia it is traditional to weave a lattice top pastry over the fruit, which is piled generously into a deep pie plate and mounded a little in the center.”
Edna Lewis’ Peach Cobbler
Serves 6 to 8
Butter Pie Pastry (recipe follows), lightly chilled
8 large ripe but still firm peaches (or substitute nectarines)
¾ cup sugar mixed with a pinch of salt
4 tablespoons (½ stick) cold unsalted butter cut into thin slices
Nutmeg Sauce (recipe follows)
2. Divide the pastry disk in half. Roll one half between two sheets of wax or parchment paper to fit in the baking dish; line the pan with the dough, pressing it gently into the sides, bottom, and corners of the pan. Trim the overlapping dough from around the edges. Refrigerate the lined pan until ready to use, at least 30 minutes. Several hours or overnight will provide an even more tender crust.
3. Roll out the other piece of dough into a 9-inch square; cut twelve 9-inch strips, each about ¾ inch wide. Place the strips between wax paper and refrigerate them.
4. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
5. Peel the peaches (peeling is unnecessary if using nectarines) with a vegetable peeler or by dipping each one in boiling water for 20 to 60 seconds, refreshing in cold water, then slipping the skin off. Remove the put and slice each peach into 8 wedges. 6. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the sugar-salt mixture over the dough in the pan. Mound the peaches in the middle. Sprinkle all but 1 tablespoon of the remaining sugar mixture over them and distribute the butter slices evenly over the top.
7. Weave the pastry strips into a lattice by placing one lengthwise and then one crosswise, spacing them evenly, until they are all used. Moisten the ends of the strips with cold water and press them into the crust sides to seal. Don’t worry if they break. Just patch them back together as best you can.
8. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar mixture over the lattice.
9. Place the baking dish in the middle of the preheated oven, and immediately lower the oven temperature to 425. Bake until the crust is deep golden and the fruit juices are bubbling, about 45 minutes. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before serving with the nutmeg sauce, if desired. Note: Miss Lewis’s cobbler is quite runny. You’ll need a spoon to scoop up all of the delicious juices. If you want a “fork only” version, toss a tablespoon of cornstarch or 2 tablespoons of instant tapioca with the fruit before placing it in the crust.
Butter Pie Pastry
Makes enough for 1 (8-in) double-crust cobbler
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
18 tablespoons (2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons) very cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1. Put the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine.
2. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is the texture of very coarse cornmeal.
3. With the motor running, add 3/8 cup ice water all at once and pulse just until combined. If too dry to come together, pulse in another 1 to 3 teaspoons of ice water. The dough should not become a solid mass. (This can also be done with a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingers, but I find the food processor just as useful a method.)
4. Form the dough into a ball. Dusts with flour and form into a flat cake. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before continuing with the recipe
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt 2 teaspoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup boiling water
2 inch piece dried orange peel (see note) or substitute 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest or 1/8 teaspoon orange oil
3 tablespoons brandy
1. Mix the sugar, salt, cornstarch, and nutmeg together in a small saucepan. 2. Whisk in the boiling water, add the orange peel, and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes, whisking occasionally.
3. Cool a bit before stirring in the brandy.
4. Warm before serving but do not boil. (Note: I like adding a tablespoon of heavy cream while reheating. To dry the orange peel: Scrape all the white from the pieces of peel and dry on a rack for several days or until dry. Store for up to a month in a lidded jar.)