A party without cake is just a meeting – Julia Childs
Whether you’ll admit it or not, we all have our foodie dirty laundry. Those comforting dishes that flood us with memories and nostalgia. Dishes we wouldn’t be seen ordering in a trendy café or be caught serving to guests in our homes. The dish I crave when I’m sick or craving pudding or just missing my family, is my mum’s peach cobbler. Deep into Winter when there were no apricots left on our trees and the dreary fruit isles had nothing but tart, floury apples, my mum would turn to ‘Koo’ for inspiration. Amongst my mother’s small arsenal of dishes that she wields for special occasions, are firm family favourites like creamy fudge, slow roasted melt in your mouth lamb shanks, the best apricot chicken, mango trifles in the Summer and cobblers baked until the fruit juice and batter have bubbled away to form a tray of irresistible toffee heaven.
Now before I reveal the very short list of ingredients to you, I warn you, not lightly, that the star of this show is tinned peaches, you read right. This dessert is delicious with fresh deep ruby plums, blushed peaches and firm fragranced apricots, but this version with tinned peaches puts me at my childhood fireplace no matter where I am in the world. It’s unapologetically kitsch use of early industrialisation pantry staples is part of its charm.
Garishly bright trifles, tinned fruit cocktail, nestle treat, instant pudding sachets, jam rolly poly’s and baked Alaska’s. Many of us have dishes that take us straight back to the vinyl covered 70’s or shoulder padded 80’s that we grew up in. Mushrooms and mussels had just arrived in tins and were the height of sophistication served on ‘bacon kips’. The more French lifestyle of shopping on a daily basis for fresh ingredients wasn’t common place and stocking up a pantry with goods that last was the order of the day.
My memories are often linked to food, my earliest being a flower girl in a deep emerald green velvet dress with a Peter Pan collar and gazing up at a beautiful ‘croquembouche’. A tower of profiteroles and spun sugar that had a profound effect on me. The disappointment of a ‘petit four’ not living up to its prettiness in taste, its dry almond crumb almost choking me. The feeling of cool flour in my hands learning to bake scones with my grandmother. Picking apricots with my mum to take to school for my class. Watching kitka loaf suck up golden eggy mixture whilst making Sunday morning French toast with my dad. Learning to pair pungent ‘Crotin’ with sweet sharp quince at chefs school, and preparing Christmas lunches with my sister. My mum taught me how to cook with love and heart, how to run a home with plenty and with very little.
My parent’s kitchen table is one of the things I fear most losing in my life. It is where I de-brief, it’s where I laugh, it’s where I cry, it’s where I re-group, it’s where I fell in my love with my now husband over many late night coffees and where my family fell in love with him over meals. The next time its cold and rainy outside and only a hot pud will do, try out this fail proof, one tray, pantry wonder. Or even better delve into your own memories and whip up comfort food that shouldn’t be left to gather dust in old scribbled notebooks just because they’re not organic, gluten-free, sugar-free, fat-free, grain free, sustainable and vegan with hints of Matcha green tea.
Note: This dessert is moreish and the gluttony is better enjoyed with company so I always double the recipe and bake it in a larger baking dish, your baking time will go up to 1 1/2 hours, with another half an hour to 45 minutes at a reduced temperature for extra gooey factor.
If you are using fresh fruit, then your amount increases to 4 cups of fresh fruit slices, which you will need to poach in
4-5 cups water
1 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp cinnamon
Poach uncovered until just soft but still holding their shape, the reduced liquid can now be set aside to be used just before baking.
½ cup salted butter
1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup full cream milk
3 cups fresh or tinned peach slices or halves (reserve the liquid)
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tsp good vanilla paste or extract or 1 fresh vanilla pod scraped out
Combine the flour, sugar and cinnamon in a mixing bowl, pour over the milk and the vanilla. Mix until you have a runny batter.
Melt the butter in the microwave and then pour into a 30 x 20cm ovenproof baking dish.
Pour the batter over the melted butter, don’t worry, it will look strange and some of the butter will rise and start to solidify because of the cool batter.
Now gently drop in your peach halves and slices in, space them out across the dish and don’t worry about pieces sticking out, the batter will rise and cover them in a glorious golden blanket of buttery pudding.
Now pour over 5 tablespoons of the reserved tinned peach juice or poaching liquid if you have used fresh fruit.
Bake uncovered in an oven preheated to 170c degrees for 45 minutes – an hour. The top should be beautifully crunchy and golden and the inside moist but cooked. If you aren’t pressured for time, the secret to making this dessert a show stopper is to turn the oven down to 140c degrees and let it bubble away for an extra half an hour – 45 minutes which allows time for the fruit juices and butter and sugar to slowly turn to toffee.
Serve with good vanilla ice cream or mascarpone for silky richness, creme fraiche cuts through the sweetness if you have a more sophisticated palate than us insatiable pudding mongers.
All Dishes and Ingredients from Woolworths SA