Despite having grown up in Alabama, I know relatively little about how to make quintessential southern dishes. Fried chicken? Made it twice in my life. Grits? I know they’re made of corn, but don’t really know how to make them. I’m sure it’s not hard, but I’d have to follow a recipe, same as any other average joe.

I have a pretty valid excuse though: I didn’t grow up eating these things. My mom never made them so why would I have learned to make them? Well, that reasoning seemed all well and good until I realized that I had no idea how to make cobbler–THE staple dessert at our house in the summer. I didn’t grow up eating many pies, except for lemon ice box pie, which doesn’t even call for a pastry crust, so I don’t know if it even counts for what most people consider pie. I don’t remember any tarts and very few crumbles, but peach or blackberry or blueberry cobbler? I’ve probably eaten 50 of them. Seriously, my parents could be professional fruit cobbler chefs, if such a thing existed.

This is why I am so embarassed that I have to call my mom or dad EVERY time I want to make cobbler. Even with their instructions I have managed to mess it up several times. Take earlier this summer for example. I was following my dad’s recipe that he orated to me over the phone, which called for a cup of flour, a cup of sugar, and enough milk until “it looks right.” I evidently had no clue what the dough was supposed to look like because I stopped adding milk when I reached a biscuit-like consistency and it didn’t work at all.

The key to real southern cobbler is that you pour the topping in the dish (over a bunch of melted butter) and then you pour the berries on TOP. The dough is then supposed to rise above the fruit and ends up on top by the time you’re done baking it. You can probably imagine that a biscuit-like dough wouldn’t magically rise and overtop fruit, and you’re right. I learned the hard way that in order to make cobbler this way you need something that’s the consistency of cake batter.

If you make the batter correctly (which of course you will because you’ll follow the magical recipe below), then as soon as you pour the fruit on top it starts to rise on the edges. Before you bake it, you use a spatula or spoon to “pull” the batter towards the middle and then as it bakes it continues to rise a little more.

When you’re done, you’ll end up with something very imperfect-looking (compared to a perfect lattice pie, for example), but absolutely delicious. You can use any juicy fruit, like peaches or nectarines, or berry–except strawberries, which just don’t have the right texture. My favorite combo is peach blackberry cobbler served warm with vanilla ice cream. It just doesn’t get much better.

By the way, I feel like my last two posts give the impression that the only way I eat fruit is by coating it in sugar and fat, which isn’t actually the case. In fact, there aren’t many things I like more than fresh, untampered-with fruit in the summer. In case anyone is interested in a fresh, healthy alternative to cobbler and ice cream that tastes almost as good and that you can eat (guilt-free!) every day, you can slice any kind of fresh fruit, top it with a 1/2 cup or so of lowfat cottage cheese, and a handful of Kashi Go Lean Crunch cereal. I literally eat this almost every day for lunch or an afternoon snack. If you’re not absolutely repulsed by cottage cheese (as I know some people tend to be), then give it a try, but also don’t feel guilty about making the cobbler just because you now know this snack exists. The trick is to eat the cobbler on the weekends and the faux-dessert-snack all week to make up for it!

Peach blackberry cobbler
Dalrymple family recipe (sugar amount slightly modified)

Makes enough for a 9″x13″ pan, but you can easily adjust all the measurements for a smaller batch.

4 peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
2 cups blackberries
(or any other combination of fruits totaling roughly 4-5 cups)
1/3 cup sugar

6 Tablespoons butter
1 cup self-rising flour*
3/4 cup sugar
scant 1 cup milk

*If you don’t have access to self-rising flour you can combine a scant cup all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

1. Put prepared fruit and 1/3 cup sugar in a medium saucepan and cook over low heat until fruit is very juicy, 5-10 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice butter into chunks and arrange in a 9×13 baking dish. Place in the oven for 2-3 minutes to melt the butter.

3. Meanwhile, mix the flour and sugar together in a medium-sized bowl. Add 3/4 cup of milk and whisk together. Continue adding the remaining ~1/4 cup milk until the batter resembles the consistency of cake batter.

4. Take the pan out of the oven, pour the batter into the pan and use a fork to mix some of the butter into the batter. Then pour the fruit overtop. Use a spatula to pull the dough from the edges of the pan over the fruit as much as possible (see photos above).

5. Bake the cobbler for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling beneath. (Five minutes into the baking time you can pull more dough up from the edges to help cover the cobbler, but this isn’t necessary.)

6. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, then enjoy room temperature leftovers by the fork-full (if you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, that is).