The Peaches Of August

When one of my friends outside the South asks me how we can endure the heat and humidity of August, I reply that the reward is August peaches. You can get them earlier, but those varieties are not nearly as good, in my view, as the ones that arrive in August. 

When I was a kid, we lived on a gravel road in the country, and every year around my birthday, a man came through the neighborhood in a pickup truck laden with baskets of fresh, luscious peaches. There were two varieties. Georgia Belles were yellow-fleshed, red-skinned fruits that my grandmother preferred for canning. Grandpa usually bought a bushel of them. The others were Alberta, a white-fleshed freestone that could be as big as a softball. The flavor was perfectly peachy, sweet and aromatic with notes of cinnamon and vanilla. We would eat the Alberta peaches out of hand, sitting on the front porch, juice dripping from our chins, wasps buzzing down to feed from the little puddles of juice at our feet. Peaches that escaped being eaten this way were soon made into cobbler by Grandma. Here is a scaled-down version of a recipe that tastes like the one I remember.

Peach Cobbler

Makes one 8-inch square pan

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar, divided

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

pinch of salt

1/2 cup whole milk

2 cups slices of peeled, fresh peaches (3-4 fruits)

1-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

Ground cinnamon

Place the butter in an 8-inch square baking pan and set on a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Watch carefully and remove the baking pan when the butter has melted. Leave the oven on.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and 1/2 cup of the sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the milk and stir to combine. Pour the batter into the melted butter in the baking pan. DO NOT STIR

Place the remaining sugar, the peaches and the lemon juice in a saucepan set over medium-low heat and bring just to a boil. Spoon the hot fruit mixture over the batter in the baking pan. DO NOT STIR. Sprinkle the surface of the cobbler with ground cinnamon to your liking.

Place the pan in the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top crust has formed and is golden brown in color. Remove from the oven and cool. The crust will not completely cover the top of the cobbler. (See photo.)

Serve the cobbler at room temperature, or refrigerate and serve cold. A dollop of vanilla ice cream goes very well with this dish.

You can double the recipe and use a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Increase the baking time by 5 minutes.

The end result of this recipe depends entirely upon the quality of the peaches. Buy local ones, if possible. The exact variety does not matter. The ones I mentioned are "old-fashioned" now, and newer varieties like Garnet Beauty and White Rose have replaced them. Peaches at the produce market should be firm and fragrant. Leave them on the counter for 2 to 3 days, and they should ripen to perfection.