A few days ago I posted a picture of the peach cobbler I made for the kiddos as a “First Day of School Treat” on the Frugal Upstate Facebook page. Several people immediatly told me how delicious it looked and begged for the recipe.
That was a problem. I didn’t really USE a recipe.
Well, that’s not exactly true, I used a PART of a recipe, for the topping. For the fruit I just took fruit I had peeled and sliced and tossed it in a pot with some sugar, cooked it down, added some corn starch to thicken it and added some spices. How much fruit? How much sugar? How much corn starch?
I have no idea.
That’s really how I cook a lot of time. I have a basic knowledge of how a dish works and then add things from whatever I have on hand to make it. It’s frugal, because I can use what I have on hand. It’s more sustainable because I can substitute in what I have grown myself, foraged, or procured locally–or even just use what I have on hand instead of driving to the store for a particular ingredient. And it’s just what I do.
So today I thought I’d just walk you through the PROCESS of making a cobbler, and that way you too can just make one with what you have on hand!
To start with you need to understand what a cobbler is. It is simply a thickened fruit sauce baked with a slightly sweet biscuit dropped on top.
Note: A similar dish is a Crumble (also known as a Crisp or Brown Betty) which has a “crumbled” mixture of fat (usually butter), flour and sugar on top–frequently oats are added as well. A Buckle is again similar, except the fruit is mixed into a sort of cake batter and then a crumb mixture is put on top. They are all pretty similar and can be improvised.
To make a cobbler, you obviously need to make a thickened fruit sauce. You can start out with fresh fruit and cook it till it releases it’s juices (or add some water or juice to get it going), you can start with dried fruit, soak it in water and then cook it all together, or you can start with canned fruit and simply heat the fruit in the juices from the can.
How much? Well, you are going to have to eyeball your eventual pan (a small casserole dish, an 9X9 brownie pan, a deep pie plate etc) and cook enough to fill it about an inch or so deep. Don’t have enough of one fruit? Either go with a smaller pan (to make the fruit mixture deeper) or add a second fruit.
Taste your fruit mixture–is it sweet enough? If not, add some sugar, brown sugar, honey. . . whatever you use for sweetener.
Take a look at the consistency. Is it thick or thin? You don’t want it to run all over the plate so that you have a biscuit sitting in a thin puddle of fruit juices–you want a goopy mixture that will stick to your ribs! You will probably have to use a thickener. Flour is indeed one, but it tends to cloud the mixture. Some folks like using tapioca as a thickener–I’ve never used it so I can’t really comment. For me cornstarch is usually preferred agent for thickening in a fruit application.
To use cornstarch as a thickener, you must first dissolve it fully in cool liquid before adding it to the hot fruit mixture–otherwise it will just clump up and not do much. If you have the forethought to reserve out some of the original liquid you are using in your recipe before you start heating things up, great! If not a bit of water or fruit juice works well. I like to start out with a heaping kitchen teaspoon in just enough water to fully dissolve it. I pour that in, heat it up (you won’t get full thickening unless the mixture is right around a boil) and take a look at your consistency. Does it need more? If so repeat the process.
If you like, you can add some spices. I like to sprinkle in things like cinnamon, allspice and ginger.
Note: at this point you could stop, refrigerate the whole thing and then wait to make your cobbler later.
Now it’s time to think topping. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Keep your fruit warm (you want it to be hot when you drop the biscuits on so it can start cooking the bottom!) and in a bowl make enough biscuit dough to plop about 6 decent spoonfuls on top of your cobbler. You could use your regular biscuit recipe, adding a tad bit of sugar and thinning to “drop biscuit” consistency. You could use some biscuit mix, again at drop biscuit consistency, with a bit of sugar added.
Or you can use the recipe I use out of my Better Homes and Garden cookbook:
1 C Flour
1/4 C Sugar
1 tsp baking powder
3 TBS butter or shortening
3 TBS milk
optional: 1/2 tsp cinnamon
Set the butter/shortening aside. Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another. Using your fingers rub the butter/shortening into the dry ingredients until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Now mix the wet ingredients into the flour mixture, stir until just moist.
Transfer your hot fruit mixture into your baking dish (I like to brush the dish with oil first to aid in cleanup). Plop your biscuit mixture on top in 6 big spoonfuls. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes–biscuits should look golden brown.
Serve plain, with whipped cream, over ice cream, or with a bit of cream or half and half drizzled over it.
So–did that help demystify the process, or have I just confused you more?