I often forget that peaches grow as far north as they do. I think of them as a fruit belonging more to Georgia than Vermont. But the majority of the country’s peaches come from California, not Georgia and definitely not Vermont. Nevertheless, they can grow well here and we picked a satisfying half bushel of beautiful sweet yellow peaches at Champlain Orchards over the weekend.
It was a warm and sunny summer afternoon and the bees seemed to enjoy the idea of fresh peaches as much as we did. We got our fair share of stretching in as we reached up high to gently pull off dozens of the soft fuzzy fruits from the trees. The higher up we managed to reach, the larger the peach we found. It didn’t take long to fill up our box, which was a good thing, because the orchard quickly filled with other enthusiastic peach seekers.
I like to pick peaches that are just a little under-ripe. That means they have only just the slightest give when you squeeze them in your hand. That way, they’re not soft enough to easily bruise and it gives us a few days before storing or refrigeration is required. Peaches ripen at room temperature, though you could put them in a paper bag to speed up the process. Although they continue to ripen, peaches don’t continue to sweeten after picking. Instead, a good way to determine the flavor of a peach is by its scent. In that case, if the deeply aromatic drive home was any indication, we have ourselves one flavorful box of peaches.
When you want to use fresh-picked fruits for an easy dessert, you have options. There are crisps, crumbles, Bettys, buckles, and cobblers, among others. All of these are variations of baked fruit dishes that are unfussy and focus on the flavor of the fruit rather than creating a perfect pastry. They’re all great options on a day of picking when you want to immediately use the ripest of the fruits.
I liked the idea of a peach cobbler with complementing flavors of vanilla and honey. I already had a reliable biscuit recipe, adapted from Alton Brown, and that’s the most important part of a good cobbler. A cobbler is simply biscuit dough that is placed over fruit. It bakes until the biscuits are golden and the fruit is juicy and that doesn’t take long.
Cobblers originated when early American colonists wanted to make fresh fruit dishes but lacked the ingredients or means to make the pies or English puddings that they knew from home. So they improvised. The cobbler was literally cobbled together by putting fruit in a dish with pieces of dough strewn atop. It could then be baked right in the fire. Although they improvised at the time, the dish is now a popular dessert in the American South.
We may associate peaches with the south, but the peach is as much of a United States immigrant as the colonists. The fruit originated in China thousands of years ago and only made its way here in the 17th century when it was transported from England. The first peaches were grown in Virginia, with commercialization later spreading the trees to other states such as Maryland, Delaware, Georgia, and South Carolina.
This cobbler recipe is hard to mess up, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Make sure your butter, sour cream, and milk are cold, as this will make for a better biscuit. You don’t need to knead the dough very much at all. Overworking the dough will create a tougher biscuit. As for the fruit, you can peel the peaches, if you like, but I didn’t feel the need. And if your fruit is ripe and juicy, you can skip pre-cooking the fruit on the stove and just mix everything together in the baking dish before topping with the dough.
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons cold butter
½ cup milk, plus 1 tablespoon
½ cup sour cream or yogurt
6 cups sliced peaches
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ginger
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons honey liquor, brandy or honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and one tablespoon of the sugar. Add the butter, milk and sour cream and stir until you have a shaggy looking dough. Then use your hands to press it together. Dump the dough onto a floured counter and knead a few times until the dough is firm and keeps its shape.
Pat the dough into a disc about one inch tall. Use a biscuit cutter, canning jar ring, or the rim of a glass or cup to cut the dough into seven rounds. Place the biscuits onto a baking sheet and place in the fridge while you prep the peaches.
In a medium pan, add the sliced peaches, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, honey liquor, and lemon juice. Heat the pan over medium-low heat. Stir and heat the peaches until they start to release liquid and soften, about 5 minutes.
Pour the peaches and liquid into a large baking dish. Evenly space the biscuits over top, then brush with the remaining tablespoon of milk and sprinkle over the remaining sugar. Place the dish in the oven with a baking sheet underneath, just in case it drips. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the biscuits are cooked through and golden brown.
Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.