Friday, June 1, 2012

The Best Food in Fairhope

In That Was Tomorrow, my novel set in Fairhope, Alabama, in 1921, Idella Cross, who ran one of the inns, was one of the town's best cooks. The young teacher Amelia, is treated to a groaning board at every meal. Idella is a fictional character, but her food inspired this writing:

Mrs. Cross was pouring tea and the colored girl was clearing the table. She had brought in a deep-dish peach cobbler, which Amelia could sense was still warm because of the fragrance it spread throughout the room. Amelia wasn’t accustomed to the big meals Mrs. Cross served, and she watched her dispense the large wedges of cobbler with some apprehension.
            “I think I’ll just have coffee, Mrs. Cross,” she said.
            “Oh? You’ll love the cobbler— but then maybe you’d like it for breakfast.”
            “That would be wonderful, I’m sure.”
            Mr. Taylor accepted both pie and coffee, yet there was still enough left over to think about having a small slice with coffee in the morning.

If you'd like to create an irresistible peach cobbler in the old-fashioned way that Mrs. Cross did, this is a recipe you might try.

You'll have to make a pastry crust. Really. You. Not a packaged crust or a tube of pre-made biscuits. Pie crust is the easiest thing you'll ever do, and you can even use a food processor for it even though Idella didn't have one. Here is the basic technique: 

1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour (If you're in the South, use Martha White or White Lily. One substitute is to use half cake flour and half all-purpose. No one will complain if you use basic all-purpose flour, but the most melting, tender crusts are made with special flour.

4 Tablespoons Shortening (Mrs. Cross would have used lard, but you may use butter or even Crisco.)

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 Tablespoons ice water 

Whisk or sift the flour with salt. Chop in shortening with a pastry blender, a fork, or pulse in the food processor until the mixture looks like small peas. Sprinkle with ice water and blend again until mixture easily forms a ball. You may have to use more water, but don't drown the dough. You want a nice firm disc. Chill this for at least an hour.

Peel and slice about ten peaches (three cups sliced). Put 1 Cup of sugar into a saucepan with 1/4 Cup of water, bring to a boil, lower the hear and simmer for a few minutes before adding the peaches. Cook the peaches in the syrup for about ten minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, if desired.

Roll the dough and line a deep pie pan or a casserole with it. Add half the peaches and layer strips of dough over it. Add the rest of the peaches and top with a lattice of crust. Dot the top with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until bubbly and golden on top. 

Your family and guests will never forget it.

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