Two of our favorite summer things: peach season in Texas and a cobbler made with tree-ripened fruit.
Photography: Dennis Fagan
Summer in Texas means a lot of things. Hot days. Float trips in inner tubes down cold spring-fed rivers. Warm nights. Frosty margaritas and chips and salsa on leafy restaurant patios. And we can’t forget peaches. All summer long, starting in May and running through August, fresh peaches from East Texas and the Hill Country pour into markets and roadside stands. As much as I love eating a juicy peach straight off the tree at a pick-your-own farm—and there are lots of those in Texas—I love taking a bushel home and making a cobbler. Because to me, nothing says summer in Texas quite like a peach cobbler.
I have a special place in my heart for peach cobbler, which my mom always makes for my birthday, which happily coincides with when Texas peaches are plentiful, ripe, and juicy. I start the peach countdown in my head every year around May. How many more weeks until peaches will be at the market? Did we have enough (or too much) rain? Did we have a late freeze? I try to predict, but really, I never know—not until I bite into the first peach of the season. And I know the fruit will only get sweeter through the summer, because peaches, like a lot of Westerners, like the heat.
Chef John Bennett of Oklahoma City is no stranger to Western heat or fresh-fruit cobblers. He’s been making them, among other things that have brought him culinary acclaim, for years. A longtime friend of Julia Child, Bennett made a name for himself in foodie circles pioneering the use of local ingredients for his unique cuisine based on techniques learned from Child and the Culinary Institute of America.
But as Bennett knows well, a cobbler—also called a crisp, crumble, Brown Betty, slump, sonker, grunt, or pandowdy depending on where you’re from—can have as many shapes as nicknames, the main requirements being that it is made with seasonal fruit and topped with a fuss-free crust. Fort Worth chef Lou Lambert makes his trail-style cobbler in a Dutch oven with a drizzled buttermilk batter on top . My mom’s recipe, taken from The Dallas Morning News, uses a sweetened pie crust on the bottom to counteract the early season tartness of the peaches. Bennett’s own preference is for a classic biscuit-encrusted top.
“When I was growing up,” Bennett says, “there used to be fruit on the bottom with a layer of pastry, and more fruit, and more pastry. It was almost gummy, and I loved it. But I don’t do that anymore.” Now he uses James Beard’s heavy cream biscuit recipe to top his cobblers. “I also use this for strawberry shortcake,” Bennett says. “After you put the cooked, seasoned fruit in the pan—have you ever heard the term cathead biscuit?—you put a big old glob of dough on top that gets real crunchy, and they’re as big as a cat’s head.”
Like me, Bennett gets weak-kneed when it’s cobbler season. “There’s no mystery to it,” he says. “It’s truly comfort food. If it’s on a menu at a diner, I’ll order a cobbler 90 percent of the time—you know how that goes.”
Yes, I do. Ditto for a crisp—if it’s on the menu, I order it. To Bennett’s way of thinking, a crisp is a bit more city, more sophisticated. This country girl knows how that goes: Sometimes fruits and berries want to get all dressed up, too.