One of the silver linings in the big, wet cloud we Texans know as summer heat is that the heat ripens a colorful array of summer fruit.
It starts with juicy red strawberries, and segues into blackberry season.
Then, the East Texas blueberries begin to make their appearance, as they are currently doing in local farmers markets, followed by peaches and figs as the summer progresses.
One thing all these fruits have in common is that they all, individually or in combination, make delicious cobblers.
While cobblers adapt year-round to seasonal fruit, they seem to have a special niche in the summer.
That might be because their portability makes them easy take-alongs for picnics and barbecues.
In addition to being low-maintenance travelers, cobblers are adaptable to any size gathering.
In Frank Stitt’s cookbook, “Frank Stitt’s Southern Table,” Birmingham, Ala., restaurateur Stitt reminisces about an unforgettable cobbler from his childhood.
“It was summer and the house was full of relatives, and we all helped gather blackberries,” Stitt writes.
“Covered with scratches, we were proud of our booty. When my grandmother realized she did not have a pan big enough to feed the whole clan or to accommodate our grand harvest, she pulled out the old aluminum washtub.
“As everyone played in the yard and feasted on a boundless summer lunch, my Aunt Rosa Faye and I brought out the huge tub — topped with a latticework of pastry bubbling with sugary-sweet blackberry juices.”
Stitt’s cobbler recipes have scaled back since then, but not his enthusiasm.
“I haven’t been able to turn away a wild berry cobbler since, but it’s never tasted quite as good as it did right out of that old tub,” he concludes.
While Stitt has fond memories of an elaborate latticework crust, cobblers can be topped with biscuit dough, oatmeal-nut streusel, a single sheet of pie crust or even thin rounds of slice-and-bake cookies.
The crust serves as a blanket to keep the juicy fruit filling from drying out — and also as a platform for a scoop of ice cream.
Joe Saladino, owner of Joe’s Barbecue in Alvin, recommends Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla atop his cobblers.
Saladino definitely has cobbler cred. His restaurant has made nearly a million of them.
“We make 200 big cobblers a day; and for holidays, we’ve made over a thousand,” Saladino said.
Joe’s Barbecue serves five kinds of cobbler, ranging from the familiar peach and blackberry to apple, cherry and buttermilk pecan.
“The buttermilk pecan is the most popular, but they’re all good,” Saladino said. “We use fresh fruit, and make our own crust with real butter.”
Barbecue and cobbler seem to go together at many restaurants, but according to Saladino, that wasn’t always the case.
“Years ago, everybody sold pies with barbecue,” he said. “When we opened in Alvin in 1970, I put cobbler on the menu.”
Cobbler and barbecue are so firmly linked that at least one barbecue restaurant, the venerable Stubb’s in Austin, has devised a cobbler recipe that includes barbecue sauce to sweeten and flavor the fruit.
Hickory Bourbon Apple Cobbler
8 Granny Smith apples
3⁄4 cup brown sugar
1⁄2 cup Hickory Bourbon Bar-B-Q Sauce
1⁄4 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon
1⁄8 teaspoon coriander
1⁄8 teaspoon nutmeg
Juice of 1⁄2 lemon
1⁄8 teaspoon lemon zest
1⁄8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1⁄2 cup brown sugar
3⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
1⁄4 cup softened butter
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Peel, core and cut the apples into 1⁄2-inch wedges. Mix together all filling ingredients and fold into the apples.
Pour apple mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Mix together all of the ingredients for the topping until all the butter is thoroughly incorporated.
After placing apple mixture in the dish, sprinkle the crumb topping on top to cover.
Place cobbler in the oven, and turn up heat to 425 degrees. Cook for 15 minutes then reduce heat to 375 degrees. Cook for 35 minutes after turning down the heat.
Remove the cobbler from the oven and let it cool for 20 minutes before serving. Spoon generous helpings into a bowl and top with your favorite ice cream.
(SOURCE: Recipe courtesy Stubb’s BBQ)
Peach and Blueberry Cobbler
8-10 large peaches, halved, pitted and cut into 1⁄4-inch wedges
1⁄2 to 1 pint blueberries
Zest of 1⁄2 lemon
1⁄4 cup granulated sugar
1⁄4 cup light brown sugar, packed
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of kosher salt
Scant 1⁄4 cup flour (if needed)
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
11⁄3 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄4 cup sugar
11⁄4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
1⁄2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 heaping tablespoon coarse or granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil.
Put the peaches in a large bowl, add the blueberries and toss to combine. Add the lemon zest, sugars, cinnamon and salt and toss again.
Let the fruit mixture macerate until the juices are released, about 20 minutes.
Taste the fruit mixture; depending on the fruit, you may need to add more sugar to sweeten it or add a little flour to thicken it if a lot of juice has accumulated during maceration.
Transfer the fruit to a 10- or 11-inch gratin dish and dot the top with the butter.
Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add the butter and, with a fork or pastry blender, work it into the dry ingredients until the mixture is crumbly and resembles coarse cornmeal.
Make a well in the center, pour in the buttermilk and stir the dough lightly with a rubber spatula until it begins to come together.
If the dough looks dry, add a little more buttermilk. The dough should be moist but not wet. Gather it together into a disk.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a 1⁄2-inch thickness. Dip a 2-inch round biscuit cutter or juice glass into flour and cut out as many circles as you can.
Gather the scraps of dough together, knead gently and roll out one more time. Cut out as many circles as you can again. Do not use the scraps again.
Place the dough circles on top of the fruit, brush them with the milk and sprinkle with the sugar.
Place the baking dish on the baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake until the fruit is bubbly and the biscuit topping is lightly browned, about 45 minutes.
Cool slightly before serving.
(SOURCE: Recipe from “Frank Stitt’s Southern Table,” by Frank Stitt)
Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3⁄4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
12 tablespoons (11⁄2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
2 cups chopped walnuts
11⁄2 pounds fresh rhubarb, diced
1 pint strawberries, stems removed and halved
1⁄2 cup sugar
1⁄4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
4 cups streusel topping, below
In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix the flour, sugars and cinnamon until combined. Add the butter and mix well on medium speed, until the texture becomes crumbly. With a wooden spoon, stir in the walnuts. Use immediately, or store in refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease 8 small ramekins or a 11⁄2 quart shallow baking dish with butter.
In a large bowl, combine the rhubarb and strawberries.
In a separate bowl, stir together the sugars, cornstarch, lemon juice and water.
Pour the mixture over the fruit and gently toss together.
Divide the mixture evenly among the ramekins or place in the baking dish.
Top each ramekin with 1⁄2 cup of streusel mixture or spread all the topping over the baking dish.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tops are brown and the filling starts to bubble. Serve warm.
(SOURCE: Recipe from “The City Tavern Cookbook,” by Walter Staib)