I made peach cobbler yesterday.
A cobbler is not the same as a crisp or crumble or grunt or slump or buckle or pandowdy. All of these things are about baking fresh fruit topped with some kind of yummy topping, but a cobbler has a biscuit or cake topping.
I am a fairly experienced baker, but this was only the second time I’ve made a peach cobbler. I’m not an expert on baking cobblers, though I’m pretty good about eating them. So in that sense, I’m an experienced cobbler-taster.
The first time I made a peach cobbler was in an attempt to replicate a friend’s mom’s peach cobbler recipe. His mom died, and he was sad for a long while. He was not even twenty-eight when she passed away. And he wanted his mom’s peach cobbler.
Sometimes you want to taste something to connect to memories and people.
Let’s try to recreate it, I said. Let’s get that part of your mom back.
I googled peach cobblers–there were so many recipes. Fresh fruit. Canned fruit. Biscuit topping made from scratch. Biscuit topping from a can. Cake batter. Pie crust. The formulas are endless.
A cobbler is not the same as a cobbler is not the same as a cobbler, either.
Is it this one, I asked. Or this one. He does not cook or bake. He was not sure how to make it, but he remembered the ingredients, he remembered what she put in. Did she make it from scratch or use peaches from a can?
I went shopping. Bought peaches in a can. Pie crust. If I had my druthers, I’d have gotten fresh peaches. And made the topping from scratch. But we want what we want and what makes us feel most connected to ourselves in our food. I myself love Thrifty’s/Rite Aid ice cream. It’s shitty ice cream–not very rich tasting, and barely ice cream, but I don’t care; it’s what I grew up with and it’s where I went after school for a ten cent scoop of ice cream, and that is the best ice cream for me.
I preheated the oven, and then we mixed the peaches with cinnamon and corn starch. Does this smell right to you, I asked. Is it cinnamon-y enough? I made sure the juice would thicken, added pats of butter for richness. The technical details are often easiest–they are from rote memory.
We feel our way in the dark when it comes to the people we have lost. This is the chill of the wind I felt on New Year’s Eve. This is the taste of prosecco my friend and I shared. This was how his hands felt in mine as we wept. Maybe that was the real moment of goodbye.
That was the moment I told him he had shown me to the door. To 2014 after an awful, devastating 2013. That I would thrive. I was grateful, I told him.
And then I laid out the pie crust on top. Is this how it looked?
We have snapshots of memories–photographic stills. And I have photographs. We walked through the Village and SoHo taking photographs one afternoon, chasing that magic hour of light.
Of course, we had the peach cobbler a la mode.
It was, he said, just like his mom’s. He held the dish in his hands.
That made me happy. Food is a connection to memories and people. It can ease loneliness. Sometimes, it is even love. Maybe equating food with love makes for a dysfunctional relationship, but sometimes we don’t get love, and then what? We have to make do with inadequate substitutes. Because sometimes the substitute keeps us from completely falling apart.
But this time–I wanted to make my own peach cobbler. I was having a BBQ with friends, and it was a hot day, and it’s peach season, and I can’t eat peaches unless they’re cooked. So, cobbler.
I am allergic to raw peaches. I like to taste my food as I cook to make sure the aromatics and sugar and salt are in balance. But I cannot eat raw stone fruit–my mouth swells, itches, and burns. Even the skin on my hands itch and burn when I handle raw stone fruit.
I can eat cooked peaches–the thing to which I am allergic, the low levels of cyanogenics from the pit of stone fruits, disappears when the fruit is cooked. Chemistry can change all things. Heat changes ingredients–transforms them. Pressure and stress can change a relationship. This is denaturation.
I googled all the peach cobbler recipes. I found this hilarious writeup on making a peach cobbler, and it made me laugh and made me want to make a peach cobbler. And the recipe, which was based on this epicurious recipe, sounded on point, too. I love reading recipes–I can taste how the food comes together while reading the directions.
Sometimes, you just know a recipe when you see it. It’s like falling in love. That’s chemical, too.
I didn’t use peaches out of a can. I didn’t use pre-made pie crust. I made this peach cobbler with Frog Hollow Farm peaches and homemade biscuit dough. I went to the store and headed to the stone fruit, and stood behind a man squeezing each peach with vigor. “All of them are hard!” he said with deep judgment.
I would not let that man anywhere near my boobs, is what I was thinking with deep judgment. Aloud I said, “I see you are thorough and squeezed them ALL.”
“Yup!” he said, and moved on to the squeezing of the nectarines.
I did not mind hard peaches. They’re easier to cut. I can pry the pits out of the halves of them more easily. Actually, I will go so far as to say I prefer hard peaches for cobbler. Plus, they were Frog Hollow Farm peaches, and they never grow a bad peach. It’s true.
So while I prep the fruit, I smell. I inhale and see if I can detect the profile I want. Not being able to taste food while cooking is like being blind and trying to navigate a landscape. Or–being able to see and walking in the dark.
I don’t know why the friendship ends. He stops talking to me. I ask him why. I ask him why again. And no answer. There is something I cannot see in the (to me) abrupt silence. I wasn’t enough for him. I wasn’t enough for yet another man.
But I’m making another peach cobbler. And I adapt the recipe. I add a splash of vanilla to the sliced peaches. (Next time, I’ll add a glug of bourbon, too). I use brown sugar instead of white.
I put the peaches in the oven. The house starts to smell very very good.
I’m not fooling around with the biscuit dough, though–I follow the directions to a T. I mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. I add cold-cold butter and cut it in with a pastry blender. And then I add boiling-hot water a little bit at a time, until the dough comes together.
I am not tidy about dolloping the biscuit dough atop the half-cooked peaches. The dough does not look promising–it is gloopy and kind of wet. But I have faith; heat can change things.
And then it comes out like this. It is beautiful. And delicious.