Around Father's Day is when I make the first peach cobbler of the summer—usually on the day itself to celebrate.
The peaches start arriving at the farmers' market around now, quietly at first and selling out early, and their perfume and perfect freshness make it really worth the effort to get to the stands early and secure our own local varieties. Southerners often think of thick biscuit-y toppings as the only definition of cobbler, but I've come across many cooks (some of them Southerners transplanted as far north as Maine) who like pie dough—baked as crisp-edged as a shortbread cookie—to top the slightly sweetened fruit with. And this is how we like peach cobbler—all the taste of fresh fruit pie without the fuss of a double crust, so I guess you could call it a peach pot pie. You can make it in any oven-proof dish deep enough to suit your gathering. If you happen to be at the beach in a rented cottage with random cooking utensils and you forgot to bring your all-time favorite pie dish (and there isn't one in the beach house kitchen, though there is a 1950s ice crusher), this approach can be a real lifesaver when it comes to having peachy dessert in season. I've used everything from oval casseroles to 12-inch glass pie plates and brownie pans for cobbler. It's a pleasure, not a science, with delicious results.
If you're pressed for time but still seduced by the peaches at the market, you can always buy half a pound cake from one of the farmers' stands and create a sauce much like the strawberry one in our April 16 Locavore Cooking: Peel six to eight small or medium peaches (you want at least an 8-ounce cup of sauce) and puree with a tablespoon of brandy or water and two to four tablespoons sugar (to taste, depending on the sweetness of the fruit) plus a tablespoon of lemon juice to protect the color. Spoon onto pound cake slices garnished with fresh peaches and whipped cream.
Peach Pot Pie
8 large or 10 medium peaches, pitted, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar (depending on sweetness of peaches)
Pinch of salt mixed with 1 teaspoon cornstarch (more if peaches are very juicy)
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter
Whipped cream or ice cream
Toss the sugar, salt and cornstarch together and stir into peaches. Turn the mixture into a buttered deep-dish pie plate or a casserole.
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (may need more for rolling if dough is wet)
1 stick very cold (frozen is great) butter
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse to combine flour with butter and shortening until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add ice water a tablespoon at a time, pulsing the processor with on/offs in between additions, to form pie dough. Turn dough onto floured wax paper, pat into a disk an inch thick, dust the top of dough with more flour, and cover with another sheet of wax paper. Chill for a half-hour.
When your peaches are ready, roll out the dough between the wax paper in the general shape of the pan you are using. When dough is an inch or two larger than circumference of your pan, peel off one of the sheets of wax paper and flip that side onto peach filling. Don't worry if your crust looks ragged or gummy, it'll still bake up crisp. Peel off second waxed paper, maneuver dough to cover filling, crimping the edges and forking the crust to allow steam to escape. If the dough breaks up, patch it together—it'll still bake up crisp and fruity and sometimes the breaks provide much needed additional vents. The idea is not to overhandle the dough, so that the crust is a flaky companion to the peaches. Bake at 45 minutes in a 425-degree oven. If your crust starts to brown sooner, test the peaches for tenderness; if they're still too firm, loosely lay foil over top and continue baking.
Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.
If you ever buy more of something than you can use at the farmers' market, I know the feeling. Sometimes our deadlines and commitments mean we don't get the half-bushel basket of peaches put up in the freezer. A very dear friend of mine gave me a bottle of this cordial for Christmas one year; the next year, we started making it together. It is lovely as is, as a flavoring in sangria, poured over ice cream, and as a bright burst of summer in winter. The recipe is primitive, and you'll have to do some taste-and-see over several seasons to choose what works for you.
About a peck, or one quarter-bushel basket, of fresh, very ripe peaches, scrubbed
Two fifths (1,500 ml) gin or vodka of choice
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup brandy
Place peaches in a gallon jar and add gin or vodka. Add sugar, allowing it to settle over other contents. Add brandy. Allow to ferment for six weeks in the jar. Strain into large punch bowl to reduce sediment, and using a glass measuring cup with a spout and a funnel, decant into a recycled vinegar bottle (sterilized in the dishwasher) or something similar and cork or screw on original (sterilized) lid. Line the harvest up on your sideboard and allow to age at least three months (we used to measure from the time we made the brandy to the first autumn fire in the woodstove). Note: There will be some sediment; it will not be a clear liquid.