Fresh stone fruit calls for cobblers, crisps, cakes

  • By Jan Roberts-Dominguez
  • Tuesday, July 20, 2004 9:00pm
  • Life

A full 11 months had passed since my last encounter with a tree-ripened nectarine. So as I stood in the middle of the Corvallis orchard, my expectations were on edge. The main crop was still a good week from harvest, but my friend Harry, recognizing a desperate soul, fished around in earnest to find a ripe offering. He did, and when I finally bit into it, was rewarded with one of summer’s most sincere and honest tastes.

In the season of sunny days and soft, mellow nights, nectarines and peaches capture the essence of summer: riverside picnics, waterslides and concerts in the park. Indeed, at a time of year when the overwhelming array of colorful, flavorful produce assaults our lucky senses at every turn, this sun-ripened fruit sits patiently just waiting to be discovered.

Then, when summer’s suddenly on the wane and we’re all depressed at the prospect of shelving our shorts and sunblock for another 9 months, Mother Nature’s saying, “There, there. Have a peach.”

Or a nectarine. Many people still believe that the nectarine is a cross between a peach and a plum. Not so. Although technically speaking it is a variation on a theme, since a single gene mutation from a peach is all it takes to create the nectarine’s sleek skin and unique flavor, for at least 2,000 years a nectarine has been recognized as a distinct variety.

Admittedly, peaches get more press than nectarines. In 1850, the original Elberta became the peach to grow and can. The Elberta also became the first peach to ship, which ultimately launched the commercial peach industry. Then in 1907, the Improved Elberta was introduced and became an instant success. In Oregon, it was the peach to can until the Veteran was introduced in 1928. To this day, canners love its sweet, soft flesh, and skin that practically slips off in your hand. But because the Veteran has the irritating tendency of dropping the moment it reaches perfection, growers aren’t fond of it.

Harry and I spent about 20 minutes wandering among the trees. He rattled off the names and states of each variety with the energetic ease of a sports announcer calling an all-star game. Ripening fruit was gently palmed and predictions made on when each variety’s season would be under way.

Unfortunately, for the vast assortment of nectarines, I was faced with at least a week of waiting. But Harry wouldn’t let me leave empty handed. Before I could climb back into my van he thrust a box of tiny peaches into my arms: “They’re too small to sell, but too good to throw away,” he said.

So I went home, made my first peach cobbler for the season and felt immensely satisfied indeed.

Peach cobbler

4cups peeled and sliced ripe peaches

2/3cup, plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1teaspoon grated lemon zest

1tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4teaspoon almond extract

1 1/2cups all-purpose flour

1tablespoon baking powder

1/2teaspoon salt

1/3cup vegetable shortening

1egg, lightly beaten

1/4cup milk

1cup heavy cream, chilled

3to 4 tablespoons peach brandy or peach cordial (optional; substitute sugar if desired)

Butter 2-quart baking dish., Arrange peaches in baking dish. Sprinkle with 2/3 cup sugar, lemon zest and juice, and almond extract. Bake for 20 minutes in 400 degree oven.

While peaches are baking, sift the flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, baking powder and salt together into bowl. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles cornmeal. Combine beaten egg and milk and mix into dry ingredients until just combined.

After the peaches have baked for the 20 minutes, remove casserole of peaches from oven and quickly drop dough by large spoonfuls over surface. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Return to oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until top is firm and golden brown.

When ready to serve, whip cream to soft peaks and flavor with the peach brandy. Serve cobbler warm, topped with the whipped cream. Makes four to six servings.

Apple-blackberry crisp

1pound apples, peeled, cored, and sliced

1pound blackberries

1/2cup sugar

3teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2teaspoons cinnamon

1teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/2cup coarsely chopped walnuts

3/4cup flour

3/4cup packed dark brown sugar

1/4cup rolled oats

1/4teaspoon salt

1/2cup cold butter, cut in chunks

Butter a 9-by-9-inch baking pan; set aside. Combine the sliced apples, berries, sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. Spoon into the buttered baking pan.

Combine the walnuts, flour, brown sugar, oats, salt, and the remaining 2 teaspoons vanilla, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. Cut in the butter. Spread the mixture over the apples and bake in a 350 degree oven until top is crisp and brown, and apples are tender, about 45 to 60 minutes. Makes six to eight servings.

From: “Thyme and the River,” by Sharon Van Loan and Patricia Lee.

Fresh peach cobbler with many-fruited variations

1/2cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon

1tablespoon cornstarch

1/4teaspoon cinnamon

4cups peeled and sliced fresh peaches

1teaspoon lemon juice

1cup all-purpose Flour

1tablespoon baking powder

1/2teaspoon salt

3tablespoons shortening

1/2cup milk

Blend 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon in medium saucepan. Stir in peaches and lemon juice. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute. Pour into ungreased 2-quart casserole. Keep fruit mixture hot in oven while preparing biscuit topping.

Measure flour, remaining 1 tablespoon sugar, the baking powder and salt into bowl. Add shortening and milk. Cut through shortening six times; mix until dough forms a ball. Drop dough by six spoonfuls onto hot fruit.

Bake in 400 degree oven until biscuit topping is golden brown. Serve warm and, if desired, with cream or ice cream. Makes six servings.


Fresh cherry cobbler: Substitute 4 cups pitted fresh (or frozen and thawed) red tart cherries for the peaches; increase sugar in fruit mixture to 11/4 cups, cornstarch to 3 tablespoons and substitute 1/4 teaspoon almond extract for the lemon juice.

Fresh blueberry cobbler: Substitute 4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries for the peaches.

Fresh plum cobbler: Substitute 4 cups unpeeled sliced fresh plums for the peaches; increase sugar in fruit mixture to 3/4 cup, cornstarch to 3 tablespoons and add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon to the sugar-cornstarch mixture.

From: “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook,” by the editors of General Mills

Peaches and dumplings

1cup all-purpose flour

1cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2teaspoons baking powder

teaspoon baking soda

1/4teaspoon salt

1large egg, separated

cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk

1tablespoon butter, melted and cooled slightly

1/4teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2teaspoon ground ginger

4cups sliced ripe peaches or nectarines

1cup fresh blackberries or blueberries

Garnish: creme fraiche or fresh whipped cream, mint sprigs

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, combine the egg yolk, buttermilk, and melted butter. Quickly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture, stirring just to combine. In a separate bowl, beat the egg white until soft peaks are formed. Fold into the batter and set aside.

In a 4-quart heavy-bottomed nonaluminum pot (with a lid), combine 2 cups of water, the remaining 1 cup sugar, the cinnamon, and the ginger and bring to a boil. Add the peaches and berries, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 3 minutes. Do not overcook the fruit. Drop the dumpling batter by spoonfuls onto the simmering fruit. Cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes (give the dumplings at least 8 minutes of cooking before removing the lid to check), until the dumplings are firm.

Serve in warm bowls with a dollop of creme fraiche or whipped cream and a sprig of mint.

Adapted from “From the Earth To The Table,” by John Ash

Upside-down peach gingerbread cake

Molasses mixture:

1 1/2cups water

1cup dark molasses

1teaspoon baking soda

cup packed brown sugar

3tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

4peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced 1/4 -inch thick

Gingerbread batter:

31/4cups flour

1 1/2teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2teaspoons ground ginger

teaspoon salt

teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4teaspoon ground black pepper

1/8teaspoon ground cloves

1/8teaspoon ground allspice

1cup packed brown sugar

cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1large egg

Garnish: fresh whipped cream

To make the molasses mixture: In a tall 6-quart pan, bring the water and molasses to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. The mixture will foam. Let cool to room temperature.

While the molasses cools, prepare the baking pan: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the sides and bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper or waxed paper. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the paper. Drizzle the butter over the brown sugar. Arrange the peach slices over the brown sugar; set aside.

To make the batter: Sift the flour, baking powder, ginger, salt, cinnamon, pepper, cloves, and allspice together into a large bowl; set aside.

In a mixer bowl, with the mixer on high speed, cream the brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until creamy. On low speed, alternately blend in the dry ingredients and the molasses mixture. The batter will be thin. Pour over the peaches. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted just into the cake comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Turn onto a serving platter. Cut into squares and top with whipped cream, if desired.

Makes 12 servings

From “Wildwood – Cooking From the Source in the Pacific Northwest,” by Cory Schreiber

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis, Oregon, food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contract her by email at

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