American (as Apple Pie)

Berry Cobblers

Cobbler...slump...or grunt?

Politicians love to speculate what our nation’s forefathers would have thought of whatever policy they are advocating.

This thinking is usually lost on me. I’d rather know what they would choose from the dessert menu. I’d rather speculate whether or not Thomas Jefferson would have liked Jell-o.

I can’t help but wonder what Messrs. Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin were eating during the hot, muggy Philadelphia days that led up to July 4th. I can say with some confidence that during the long hours it took for him to write the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wasn’t eating Domino’s.

John Adams was a Harvard grad and a lawyer, but he was also a farmer. Abigail (Mrs. Adams to you) likely served what was fresh and in season, straight from their own fields. There was no choice: the only place she would have found an Israeli tomato was in Jerusalem. While championing the use of locally grown farm ingredients may have made Alice Waters seem like a revolutionary in the 1980s, what she really was doing was recapturing a time before fruits and vegetables were flown in from elsewhere. Folks lived off the land and bought what was grown locally; this also shaped their menu. It is only in our time that the new-fangled jet airplane has made food from around the world available in your neighborhood supermarket.

Some popular desserts in revolutionary times were cobblers, pan dowdies, and stewed fruit desserts called grunts or slumps. Supposedly the latter were called grunts because of the noise they made while cooking. Hmmm. Doesn’t sound promising, but these desserts were likely borne from a combination of the available technology (the kitchen stove = the hearth) and the available ingredients.

Just what you wanted: a history of the Revolutionary War as told through the dessert menu. My high school history teacher would be so proud. I finally got something right.

I know that the thought of a hot dessert on a hot summer night seems out of place. I won’t apologize. Fresh berries are bouncing off the shelves right now, and yes, they’re wonderful in a bowl with a little sugar and a dollop of cream. But there’s a problem with cold desserts: there’s no aroma to make your home smell like, well, home.

It’s not by accident that one of the oldest tricks up the sleeve of any Real Estate agent worth her salt is to bake apples and cinnamon in the oven when they’re having an open house. They’re not after a low-fat dessert, they’re after a sale. They can “stage” a house with fancy furniture and knick-knacks, but if the place smells like poopie it’s “No Sale.”

That tasty concept aside, I was also thinking that summer is the season when people take time to entertain friends. Perhaps they have a house near the beach which is the target of many a weekend trek by friends and family. For folks who live the other nine months of the year in their little New York City apartments, this may often be the only time during the year when they get to eat “at home” with their chums at a real dining room table as opposed to having everyone perched on the sofa.

The desserts in the picture above are like a colonial cobbler or a slump. I lightened them up a bit by substituting a very light cake batter for the usual biscuit dough topping. The cake batter makes the dessert lighter for summer, and is easier to prepare. I used my Kitchen Aid, but a bowl and wooden spoon will do you fine. You can bake these for varying lengths of time depending on how “puddingy” you want them. The longer you bake them the cakier the top becomes.

Wouldn’t it be nice to present your visiting chums with four different versions of the same dessert? Sounds ambitious, yes? Is it ambitious? No.

I’m still kicking myself. In my shopping haste I grabbed only blueberries and raspberries. My repeat performance will show me grabbing the blueberries and raspberries, but also the blackberries, strawberries, and maybe a summer stone fruit like a peach or nectarine. Each item will get its own little dessert.

The dishes are little 4 ¾’’porcelain crème brulee dishes; at about four bucks a pop they’ll hardly break the bank, and I can also use them for nuts and other snacks. (Ummmm, and crème brulee too.)

Assembling the dessert is easy: tumble the berries or cut fruit into the dishes, top with the batter. Bake. A touch of ice cream and some serving spoons are all you need. You don’t have to wait for the beach or the backyard barbecue for this: it also makes a great “coffee table” dessert. (Be careful though. Blueberries and rugs don’t mix well.)

While this isn’t strictly a cobbler or a grunt / slump, I’m calling it a slump. It’s a dessert name you don’t hear anymore, and has a free history lesson attached.

If you prefer, stick a feather in your hat and call it macaroni.

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Click here for my recipe for Berry Slump

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