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The sheaf of recipes had one entitled “Connecticut Peach Cobbler.” This is not that recipe. That recipe was just too fussy. There was sifting, and too many ingredients, and adding a sugary glaze halfway through cooking. And — like this one before I futzed — that peach dessert was tooth-curling sweet. (Is it that peaches used to be less sweet, or was a heavy hand with sugar just the norm fifty years ago?)

Cobblers and crisps should be simple. They are, after all, competing with the alternative of just plain fresh fruit. If you have a perfectly ripe peach, do you want to slice it and serve it . . . or do you want to wrap those slices in crust or sprinkle them with crunchy topping? I’m of two minds, which is why both approaches should be pretty darn easy. Level playing field, you know.

So the fussy cobbler was out, but I had to keep the “Connecticut” name. Grammy spent most of her summers in Connecticut’s northwest corner. That’s where she would have made her cobblers and pies. The peaches would have been local, and dead ripe when she used them. Fried chicken might have been the heart of the meal, counterbalanced with sliced tomatoes sprinkled with salt and sugar.

There’s a New England usefulness to this dish, too: You can use the cobbler topping on four cups of any fruit. I’ve made this with two-thirds peaches, one-third blackberries — very striking. You could try nectarines, which are perfect at the farmers’ market right now, or a plum/nectarine/pear combo, to inch from summer into fall.

For me, a fruit pie or cake means a fruit breakfast the next day. Bear in mind that that’s about as far as you can reach with this: The topping gets pretty soggy. This morning I eked out my last serving of this batch of cobbler by adding a dollop of yogurt, a sprinkling of toasted flax seeds and a big mug of coffee. Divine.

Connecticut Peach Cobbler from Baking Family

Connecticut Peach Cobbler

Serves 4-6

  • Butter for dish
  • 2 pounds (about 4 large) peaches (about 4 cups when peeled and sliced)
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk or yogurt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a 2- or 2-1/2-quart baking dish.

Peel peaches and slice into the baking dish. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of sugar over the peaches.

Cream butter and 1/2 cup sugar in a medium bowl. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and buttermilk, and mix well.

Dollop mixture over peaches. Don’t worry about smoothing the topping or getting it to the edges: It will do all that itself in the oven. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until top is lightly browned and fruit is bubbling around the edges. Serve warm.

Before

Connecticut Peach Cobbler out of the oven from Baking Family

After

Photographs and recipe copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

Some of the recipes in my random stack from Grammy are larded with questions. This recipe surfaced on a largish piece of paper, written out in a rounded hand that is not my grandmother’s. The dish, called “Peach Melba,” contains no raspberry — as does the famous dessert named after Dame Nellie Melba. And this dessert is a bit unusual. Kind of eggy, but it works.

Where did it come from? Why is it made like it is? Whose handwriting was that?

I finally got a break on the handwriting. In the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, Grammy and Grampy — a judge in New York, and a prominent man on the local political scene — had “help.” For as long as I can remember, Grammy’s main assistant was her kitchen sidekick, a lovely woman named Gelena Slack. Gelena came in to cook, and serve at dinner parties, and who knows what else. What most of us remember is that Gelena batted clean-up in the kitchen. Grammy’s approach to cooking was enthusiastic and messy. When Gram was in the kitchen, her fingers seemed to have a permanent sheen of butter; this did not prevent her from opening a cabinet and pulling out a bowl or a jar. The counters were fully utilized. Pans, several bowls, multiple ingredients, teaspoons and measuring cups vied for space. Grammy measured accurately, but without fear of spilling. The bowl got what it needed, the counter and floors got the rest.

Butter and brown sugar meltingI make it sound like chaos. Actually, for someone who had been raised in the “pull one thing out, use it, put it away” method of cooking, Grammy’s all-out approach was charming.

For Gelena, it was a quiet eye-roll and an hour’s work. Perhaps Grammy felt she could move from one step of a recipe to another without cleaning up because she HAD Gelena there. That relationship certainly made its mark on subsequent generations: My father’s cry, “what, do you think we have Gelena?,” became a refrain in my kitchen adventures.

It turns out that the loopy green letters were Gelena’s handwriting. She had copied this recipe for Peach Melba (from where?) onto a large sheet that could be propped against the flour and sugar tins on the counter, easily read while working. The authentic spatter on this old copy? Gelena or Grammy, who knows.

To deal with another of the questions for which I don’t have an answer, I’ve renamed this recipe so that there is no confusion with classic Peach Melba. I want someone to try it and let me know if this new name really fits!

Peach Pan Cake from Baking Family

Peach Pan Cake

If you have it, a cast-iron skillet makes this look really nice. You can bring it right to the table, just so long as everyone remembers that the pan-handle is hot.

Serves 4-6

Peaches in the pan

Fitting the peaches in the pan

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 4 ripe peaches, peeled and halved
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons milk or buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a 9-inch oven-proof skillet, melt butter and brown sugar together until they cover the bottom of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and arrange peach halves round side up — cut face down — in the pan. Seven whole peach-halves will fit snugly; cut the final half into chunks to fill in gaps.

In a medium bowl, mix together eggs, milk, granulated sugar, flour and baking powder. Pour this batter over the peaches and smooth it to the edges of the pan.

Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown on top. Serve pan cake hot or room temperature, with whipped cream if you choose.

Photographs and recipe copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

“What,” you ask, “is cream custard?”

Cream custard is several things: Rich, weird to look at, a star turn for nutmeg and a perfect comfort dessert. It’s also economical: In her notes, Grammy connects this recipe with Cordon Bleu basic cake so cooks can use up the egg whites the cake recipe kicks off.

I don’t remember eating Titusville Cream Custard. When I made in a few weeks ago during my mother’s visit, however, she greeted it like an old friend. Someone familiar, not seen for a long time.

That’s one of the great things about family recipes and foods. Food memories — and recipes — can skip generations, or float in the subconscious, or land with great dramatic effect. Things I remember eating as a child may not even have registered with my cousins. Recipes last made three decades ago can resurface at just the right moment. And a comfort dish to one child can be anathema to a sibling. (Which, by the way, works out pretty well if you’re sitting at the same table. Ask my brothers about calves’ liver.)

Titusville Cream Custard, "Baking Family," Garside Group LLCBack to cream custard. The roots of this dish remain vague. Titusville is a town in Pennsylvania; why it is known for its cream custard is a mystery. Did the town have a bustling ice-cream business in summer and wanted a winter alternative? Because that’s what this is: Warm, nutmeg-scented ice cream in the form of soft custard. The “weird to look at” part is how unappealing this dish looks going into the oven. You begin with a pallid, foamy pool freckled with nutmeg. The slow bake transforms the ugly duckling: Nutmeg melds into a crunchy top as the anemic pool morphs into a creamy ivory pudding.

As with Lemon Sponge, this would be worth putting into separate containers for a fancy dinner party. If you’re gathering around the kitchen table, though, just put the pudding dish in the center, dig in, and see if this reminds you of a dish from way back when.

Titusville Cream Custard, "Baking Family," copyright Garside Group LLC

Titusville Cream Custard

Serves 6-8

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 300°F.

In a large bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. In a smaller bowl, combine sugar, salt, milk and cream; stir until sugar dissolves. Pour cream mixture down the inside of the larger bowl, then fold egg whites and cream mixture together.

Pour mix into a two-quart souffle dish; sprinkle top generously with ground nutmeg. Place the souffle dish into a larger dish and fill outer dish about half full with warm water. Bake custard for an hour and fifteen minutes. Test with a silver knife; when it comes out clean custard is done.

Photos and recipe copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

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