I cannot resist a recipe that promises an odd outcome. To wit, prior to stumbling upon this curiosity in the wonderful A Boat, A Whale and a Walrus, an assembly of recipes and stories from restaurants on the other side of the country that I am now extra-sad I haven’t been to (yet! Like maybe in 5 or 18 years or so?), I understood cobblers to be more or less baked fruit topped with a soft cake batter or plush biscuit, while crisps had clusters of oaty and sometimes nutty cookie-like crumbs giving them their namesake texture. [Let us save comparisons with crumbles, grunts, fools, pandowdys, sonkers, bettys, buckles and slabs for another delicious day.] Crisps were not soft; cobblers were not crisp.
The problem, if there could be one, is that if a 30-something with a kid out of diapers ever says to a group of people, “I have news!” certain presumptions are made. So, to quell any wild ideas before they take off, no, this is not that kind of news. I’m sorry; we’re bummed too.
I hope, if we are going to continue to be good friends, that we can have an implicit understanding that there is no such thing as too many peach recipes. Not in July, not in August, not in New York, which grows surprisingly good peaches for a Yankee. And I know that as a writer and food person, I’m supposed to be on the lookout for my crutches, my overused ingredients. I should probably lay off the tomatoes, the caramelized onions, the feta, Dijon, strawberries, green beans, white beans and butternut squash. Sheesh, I should show some range! Maybe I will, you know, after peach season is over. Because I’m not done with them yet. I’m not done with summer yet. Maybe it’s this mild August we’ve been having or, I confess, the not-supposed-to-be-but-kinda-has-been fun of having a husband out of a job for the last few months, but once you become a summer person, it’s hard to react with anything but venom when you spy apples and butternut squash at the farmer’s market before Labor Day, as I did this week. How gauche!
If you think about it, isn’t it strange that we’ve nominated pie as our iconic summer dessert? Do understand, I say this as someone who frequently daydreams about going around the country and teaching people to make pie with a bare minimum of fuss, because I think the only thing standing between you and someone who effortlessly throws pies together because you heard someone was coming over is someone talking you through it once or twice… But I will also fully admit: pie is a pest. It requires very cold fat to be carefully worked into a floury mix until the pieces are exactly the right size. Too small, your crust is flat and crunchy. Too big, butter pools out and burns, leaving sad, tough flakes for crust. Too warm, the bits go small and absorb into the flour. Too cold, good luck rolling it out! And before you even know if the trouble will be worth it, you’ve got to roll out your crust with no holes or tears or your fruit filling will leak through and permanently glue pie-to-pan. And the fruit! Too thick, your pie cuts freakishly like Jell-O; too thin, it spills out everywhere, leaving a hollow crust in its wake. And don’t even get me started on lattice-tops. They’re for really sick people.
I am sure I’m not the only person who has ever been out to eat and bit into something they knew they’d love and nearly sobbed with disappointment over what could have been but was not. “Why? Why did they have to go and ‘fix’ this? It wasn’t broken!” No? It’s just me? Well, good on you for having some decorum, or at least a better poker face than your narrator. I’ve done this when I discovered curry powder in a sweet potato pirogi (really, I’m grimacing as I type this). It’s not a popular opinion, but I feel this way about bacon in chocolate chip cookies. And if everyone could stop putting cardamom pods in vanilla ice cream and custards, I wouldn’t mind one bit. I like vanilla. I don’t think it needs any flavor enhancement.
We spent last weekend in New Orleans. I’d been invited to be on a panel about recipe development at a lovely conference, and we wove that together with a baby-free mini-vacation for our anniversary weekend. We’d only been to New Orleans once before, just a couple months before our wedding in 2005, not realizing how strongly we’d feel connected to the city when our wedding and Hurricane Katrina fell on the same date. Meanwhile, we managed to miss another hurricane — and her damages — entirely back home. We’re lucky people.
Is there an unsaid rule that bar cookies have to be heavy and gooey? Two weeks ago, we picked up a cup of coffee on our way to the park so that the little monkey could continue his path of destruction outside our apartment, and I fell for something in the bakery case called peach shortbread, cut into bars. But instead of being thick and intense, it was delicate, light and barely sweet — a thin layer of shortbread, even thinner slices of peach and the faintest sprinkling of streusel on top. I knew I had to share it.