This post is dedicated to my mom, and to the memory of my maternal grandmother, "Mama" Prella.
My mom has been out visiting us for the last two weeks. The bad news is that - bless her heart - my mom's visit could not have come at a more stressful time in our lives. We could not have know when we planned her trip a month or so ago that both my husband and I would be going through a time of professional turmoil at our respective jobs, just as my mom was to arrive. To add to the stress, our twins just started the summer program at the school where they will attend kindergarten in the fall, and the transition from preschool has been more difficult for them than we anticipated. My poor little girls have been experiencing almost daily meltdowns, not sleeping through the night, crying at the drop of a hat... It's been a tough couple weeks for all of us.
The good news is that this is the longest visit my mom has been able to have with us in quite some time. And my kids have been loving it.
My mom is probably the grandparent our kids know best, and they adore their "granny." Growing up, we lived far away from all our grandparents, too. But I still have great memories of my grandparents, and the visits we had with them when we were kids. My mom is one of eight children, so I have a lot of cousins. Often, my mom would plan our yearly summer visits with my grandfather to coincide with my cousins' visits, so we could all spend time together. During at least one of my childhood vacations back to North Carolina - my "Papa's" home state - we went berry picking. I vividly remember running through what seemed like an enormous berry bramble, oblivious to the oppressive North Carolina summer heat, grabbing handfuls of berries in between games of tag with my cousins, laughing and carefree. (I also remember some kind of huge buzzing bug that would fly out of the berry bushes without warning, sending us screaming in the opposite direction.)
I imagine we must have gathered enough berries (or more accurately, our parents did) to make that iconic Southern favorite - cobbler. But to be honest, I don't have strong memories of eating cobbler during those many summers. I mean, yes, I remember my aunts baking cobbler. And I'm sure I must have eaten some of it. But for whatever reason, cobbler has never triggered strong childhood memories for me in the way some other foods do.
For my mom, however, cobbler most definitely holds a lot of memories. Last weekend, we took mom and the kids to a nearby pick-your-own farm. The cherry trees, heavy with fruit just a week earlier, were nearly empty. Luckily, the white peaches and marionberries were newly-ripe and abundant. We went up and down the rows, picking and eating to our hearts' content. Then we merged our separate bounties in one big box for the ride home. Looking at the mountain of berries, mom beamed at me. "We could make a cobbler!"
Later that day, mom regaled us with stories of her childhood, growing up on a farm. She told us how her mom, my grandmother, used to make the best cobbler. She talked about her mother, who died when I was just a little kid. She spoke of how much she missed her, still. And of how she missed that cobbler. And even though I wanted to recreate those memories for her, I was hesitant. I'd never made a cobbler. What if it didn't turn out? I didn't want to sour my mom's memories with a less-than-perfect cobbler. Silly, I know. My mom would have been happy no matter how the dessert tasted. But sometimes I'm not very good at showing my mom how much I love her, how important she is to me. So I wanted the cobbler to be really good. Because she's my mom, and because seeing her with my children made me miss my own grandmother, who I never had much of a chance to get to know.
Putting aside my apprehension, I did a quick search, picked a recipe from a reliable source, and jumped in. The cobbler could not have been simpler to pull together: a quick toss of berries and sugar in one bowl, a short stir of batter in another, plop it all together in a dish. In just minutes, my cobbler was ready to bake. The sweet, summery scent of bubbling berries and almond-tinged topping wafting from the oven buoyed my hopes. When it was done and had cooled a bit, I scooped the warm cobbler into bowls with vanilla ice cream... and held my breath as my mom took her first bite. She closed her eyes and smiled. "Dawn, this is even better than my mom's." I think my heart skipped a beat, truly. It was Saturday, June 19, 2010. And it was my proudest baking moment so far.
Adapted from Simply Recipes
Elise's original recipe is made with apricots and berries, which I'm sure is delicious. But I wanted the just-picked freshness of the marionberries to really shine, so I modified the recipe accordingly, and made a couple other very minor changes. Maybe it was sharing the cobbler with my mom, maybe it was her stories in the forefront of my mind, or maybe this was just a great recipe to begin with. Whatever the reason, this was the best cobbler I've ever tasted.
butter (for greasing the baking dish)
4 cups marionberries (or boysenberries or blackberries)
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (for thickening)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons white granulated sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup buttermilk*
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon Turbinado sugar
Make the filling: Butter a 9" ceramic pie pan (or 8x8" baking dish). In medium bowl, gently toss the berries, sugar, and flour together. Pour berry mixture into the pie pan.
Make the topping: Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and granulated white sugar in a medium bowl. Add the butter cubes, using your fingers to smear it into the flour, until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
In a small bowl, mix the almond extract and the buttermilk together. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture, and mix gently with a spoon until the dough just comes together. Do not over-mix or your cobbler topping will be tough.
Elise's Tip: at this point, briefly heat the berry mixture in the microwave until it is warm, which will help the topping to rise.
Using a large soup spoon, drop rough scoops of the dough on top of the berry mixture. (It's okay if the dough doesn't completely cover the berries; in fact, it probably won't.) Drizzle the melted butter over the top, aiming for the fruit more than the topping, then sprinkle the Turbinado sugar all over the dough.
Set the cobbler aside to rise for 10-20 minutes before baking. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425°F.
Bake at 425°F for 10-15 minutes or until the top just begins to brown. Reduce the heat to 350°F and cook for an additional 30-40 more minutes, until the fruit is thick and bubbly. Be sure to check the cobbler occasionally while it bakes. If the topping is browning too quickly, cover it with foil for the remaining baking time.
Remove from oven and allow to cool, uncovered, for at least 15 minutes. Serve warm. Perfect with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or with lightly sweetened, freshly whipped cream. This cobbler is really best within hours of baking. If you have any extra, store it in the fridge, covered. Warm leftover cobbler in the microwave, then run it briefly under the broiler to crisp the topping before serving.
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* Lacking buttermilk, I substituted a scant half cup of raw cow's milk mixed with 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.