THE SWEET TASTE OF SUMMER
I posted a fruit cobbler not too long ago and made a promise to my readers that I would make – and post – my own favorite, reliable, best ever Peach Cobbler recipe before the end of peach season. Well, I never break a promise. Mostly. (And if I ever did admit to lying, and what girl would? then rest assured that a larger-than-life evil lie to harm anyone would never pass these lips, only the rare little white lie to protect the innocent…me). But when it comes to food I spit on the palm of my hand and cross my heart and do as I say. I am a nice person when it comes to food.
We arrived home from brilliantly sunny Florida a mere two weeks ago or so to the beginning of autumn here in France. Leaving the blistering heat behind, we were greeted by the hug of fog and the spatter of rain on our faces as we stepped off of the plane. Several days of gray skies and incessant rain pulled us back to the reality of home and we understood that summer was over and it was time to get back to work. Patience, patience and once we were settled in, the sunshine, that delicate fall sunshine lit up the fluffy white clouds floating lazily through the blue skies. Crunchy golden leaves litter the sidewalks and the air smells crisp and clear. Now summer plays tag with the fall, sunshine and rain dash in and out of the trees each trying to outdo the other as the days go from chilly and damp to warm and spectacular as each tries to claim this month of August as her own. September approaches and we try and grasp onto the last lazy days of summer even as we relish the cooling, glittery first days of autumn.
We drove out to the coast our first weekend back home so JP could take another dip in the ocean. He is still dreaming of Florida’s sweltering heat, feet sinking into scorching dunes, having to jump from foot to foot, keep moving to escape the burning sand, dashing down to the water’s edge towards the welcome lapping of the waves, the cool water swirling up around his ankles. He is imagining the Florida sun, squinting up into the piercing light as it burns into his eyes, stabs at his skin. Remembering, yes, but here in France late summer means the beginning of autumn, and it is already cooler as we step out of the car and shoulder our tote bag of towels and books. No straight line of white, sandy beaches going on and on as far as the eye can see. No, the French coast opens up here and there, offering tiny secluded coves of deep golden sand the color of graham crackers, the waves crashing up against jagged heaps of deep charcoal gray slate, tiny pools of water cradled in the craters in the rocks, shimmering in the hazy late morning light. A cool breeze kisses my skin as the sun warms my back and I settle down with my book as JP dons his swimsuit and gleefully wends his way down to the waves. I bury my nose in my book as JP heads off to take his swim. He comes back quickly, astonished at how chilly the water is! No Florida this! He brings me back treasures, an oyster shell, a plump, angry crab who skitters away the moment his body is placed back on the sand. We soon decide that it is time to head into Pornic and enjoy a seafood platter for lunch as we savor the last days of vacation and the fading summer.
The following weekend, the glimmering light and nip in the air pull us out of our beds and in another direction towards something much more seasonal. We don our walking shoes, hook the leash around Marty’s neck and head out for a long meander through the vineyards, now lush and green at this time of year, our favorite Saturday morning haven. Marty dashes in and out of the vines, breathing in all of the smells of the great outdoors, alert to each and every bug, animal and plant sound and movement (although for some reason he completely misses the three stunning deer who we spy grazing on the leaves and grapes up atop the hill). Arms hugging our bodies to ward off the unexpected chill, we turn our faces up towards the sun and walk, deeper and deeper into the lovely landscape. We have always found this the perfect spot for talking, dreaming of our future, making crazy plans, testing each one as it rolls off of our tongue, laughing at the absurdities of life and the foibles of our fellow man. We clear our heads of the weeks’ worries, brush the stress of the daily grind off of our shoulders where the burden is the greatest, weighing us down, and we leave the vineyards, head back to the car just a tad more content, our step just a little lighter and ready to enjoy the rest of the weekend.
And the autumn chill in the air, the bright, crisp sunshine against azure skies has me dreaming of pumpkin. And pears. Mushrooms pepper my thoughts and sweet potatoes dance before my eyes. Yet as much as I adore all things autumn, I revel in the last of the summer fruit. The market stalls breath summer, peaches and nectarines are piled high, red and yellow, soft golden apricots and plums in yellows and greens, reds and purples, tumble from wooden crates across the faux grass decorating each stall. Cherries are long gone as are the sweetest of the strawberries and the occasional tiny cardboard box of raspberries shamelessly calls my name, luring me like a handful of rubies, but my heart truly belongs to the peaches. I love peaches and we are at the height of the season in France. Plump and ripe, juicy and sweet, sweeter than any peaches we’ve eaten in many a long year. When I was a kid, I preferred my peaches hard and crunchy like the best apple only sweeter, fruitier, the satisfying bite into the flesh a pleasure I could enjoy forever, eating one after another all day, all summer long. But now I find the greatest satisfaction in the ripest of the bunch, at the peak of sweetness. I buy them by the bagful, returning day after day for more. One luscious peach is the perfect ending to any meal, whether an elegant dish of lobster or scallops or a humble sandwich, a peach is the only dessert I need. JP places one, the ripest, on the center of his plate and, using our sharpest paring knife peels the skin off of the fruit and cubes the flesh, stabbing each tender chunk one at a time and slipping it onto his tongue. I, on the other hand, American that I am, carefully, gently wash my peach so as not to bruise the delicate fruit, and bite joyfully into the flesh, the juice running down my arm, dribbling over my chin, enjoying the entire childlike experience, savoring the flavor, the sweetness, the texture.
Let autumn come, stunningly bright, marvelously cold, her brilliant sun splashing across the white of the buildings and in through my windows, yet keep these tantalizing beauties for just a while longer, these lovely peaches of red and purple and gold, their velvety softness and sweet perfume luring me, beguiling me with the promise of eternal summer.
Old fashioned and just about perfect
4 generous cups (6 – 8 depending on the size) peeled, thickly sliced ripe peaches
½ cup* (100 g) + 3 Tbs (45 g) granulated sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups (200 g) flour
1 Tbs baking powder
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup (75 g) sweet butter, chilled
1 egg lightly beaten
¼ cup (65 ml) milk
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Butter a 2-quart (2-liter) glass or ceramic baking dish.
Arrange the peeled, thickly sliced peaches in the buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with the ½ cup sugar, the lemon zest and juice, the vanilla and toss. Bake for 20 minutes until the peaches are tender, glazed and the juices are bubbling.
While the peaches are baking, make the cobbler dough by sifting the flour, baking powder and salt together into a large mixing bowl and then tossing with 1 tablespoon of the remaining sugar. Feel free to stir in a dash of ground cinnamon if you like. Cube the butter and toss in the flour then rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles cornmeal or damp sand. Whisk the egg into the milk then pour onto the flour mixture. Stir with a fork until well combined and has become a thick batter.
Remove the cooked peaches from the oven and, working quickly, drop the dough by very large even spoonfuls onto the peaches. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of the sugar evenly over the dough and return the dish to the oven to bake for 15 – 20 minutes until the dough is puffed up, firm and golden brown.
Serve warm – not hot hot as fresh-from-the-oven fruit juices may burn! – with freshly whipped, slightly sweetened cream or a scoop of your favorite ice cream.
Now, I must explain why I love this Peach Cobbler so, why it is our favorite. The fruit it perfectly sweetened, perfectly cooked. And don’t be afraid to toss a handful of raspberries or blackberries in with the peaches. Yum! But the cake part of the cobbler is tender, dense and just moist enough that it isn’t dry in the mouth (like other cobblers may be), the perfect texture, barely sweet like a simple drop biscuit or muffin, the ideal foil for the sweet, sweet fruit and perfect to sop up the juices with. Even after one or two days in the refrigerator, the “cobbles” are still tender and delicious, becoming neither hard nor dry in the cold. A fabulously easy, stunningly delicious Peach Cobbler.