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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

A few weeks ago The Washington Post ran their annual Top Tomato Recipe contest. The editors carefully cautioned contestants that there were plenty of good tomato soups and fresh pasta sauces in the world, so entries in those categories better be darn good.

I had no intention of jumping into a crowded category.

Tomato’s a fruit, right? And there are a bunch of other ripe fruits at this time of year, in fact, oodillions of ripe stone fruits and berries, right? So what about a dessert, with tomato balanced by other, sweeter fruit? I set to work.

I figured that Grammy, who always served sliced tomatoes sprinkled with both salt and sugar, would be behind me in this. There are no tomato desserts in her collection, but her tomato conserve loudly proclaims that tomatoes can shine as a sweet.

Tomatoes, peaches...what's missing?

Tomatoes, peaches...what's missing?

My first attempt was horrifying. Our friends Klaudia and Peter were generous. “Glmmph, interesting,” they mouthed through fiercely dry cornbready topping. I had dreamed that a cornmeal cobbler crust would be a nice touch. Not so: The heavy and dry topping completely overpowered the fruit. And I had only used peaches and tomatoes, a combination that tilted too much toward acid.

The next try was workable: Add in plums for uncomplicated sweetness and juice, and scale the topping back to a nutty crisp. A bit more tweaking and I was ready to send in the recipe — a mere 17 minutes to go before deadline.

Several weeks later, the call came: My recipe was selected from 158 entries as a finalist. I still smile to think of it. And I am proudly wearing my Top Tomato 2010 shirt for more baking.

Tomato-Peach-Plum Crisp from Baking Family

Tomato-Peach-Plum Crisp (aka Three-Fruit Crisp)

Serves 6

  • 1 pound tomatoes, washed, cored and sliced into thin wedges (about 3 cups)
  • 1-1/2 pounds mixed peaches and red plums*, washed, peaches peeled and both fruits thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 7 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 5 tablespoons salted butter, sliced into half-inch pieces and well-chilled

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, combine tomatoes and stone fruits. In a small bowl, mix granulated sugar with cornstarch; add into fruit mixture and mix well. Pour fruit mixture into a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan.

Put flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and pecans in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse the mixture three or four times, until the nuts are finely chopped. Add chilled butter, and pulse three or four times more, just until butter is chopped. (If you start to see clumps, stop. You’re headed for cookie dough.)

Spread topping evenly over fruit. Put pie plate on a cookie sheet wide enough to catch drips, and place the sheet in the preheated oven. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until topping is lightly browned and fruit is bubbly. Serve warm or room temperature.

*I use about 1 pound of peaches, ½ pound red plums.

Recipe and photographs copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

Italian prune plumsWhen blue Italian prune plums hit the farm stands, it’s time to stew. A recent call from Auntie Helen reminded me that I had yet to stew plums this year. These otherwise quite mild fall fruits really shine when reduced to bright plummy chunks in sauce. (That is, unless you turn them into the divine plum torte instead.)

Stewing has a practical side, too: The season for prune plums around here is very short. If you stew them, you can extend their life until — say — now, when I’m not only eating them right out of the bowl in the fridge, but I’m putting them on cereal in the morning and on pound cake for a simple dessert.

Cooking these plums generates a dramatic change in color: When fruit meets heat, blue-purple skin and yellow flesh brew up into a deep magenta color that the folks at Benjamin Moore would kill to replicate.Benjamin Moore stewed-plum colors wannabes

It’s worth noting that these plums are freestone, as opposed to summer plums whose flesh wraps itself tenaciously to the pit. So if you don’t like fishing plum pits out of the sauce or warning your guests to watch out, you can fix that right up front: Halve the washed raw plums, pop out the pits and stew the halves. Note that you will definitely have mush if you do this — delicious, but no shape to it. If you stew whole plums and handle then very gently (maybe even shave 5 minutes off the cooking time to keep them from disintegrating), you can serve whole, soft plums with bright syrup over ice cream, pound cake or any other lovely plain vehicle for sauce.

Stewed Plums

Makes about 3 cups

  • 3 pounds Italian prune plums (firm, not hard)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, or more to taste

Wash plums well; do not peel. Place them in a saucepan large enough that the plums don’t stack more than two high. Add water to half-cover the fruit. Place pan over medium heat and bring water to a boil; reduce heat to low, cover pan and cook for 20 to 25 minutes. Stir occasionally to shift plums from top to bottom. When plums are soft, remove lid, add sugar, stir and return uncovered pan to stove for an additional 5 minutes, stirring to keep plums from burning.

Photograph and recipe copyright 2009 Garside Group LLC

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