A slice of childhood summers

August 06, 2006|By SANDRA PINCKNEY

EVERYONE PITCHED IN, BRINGING whatever building materials they could get their hands on. The mission: to build my grandparents a summer cottage in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts.

The wood from one of my dad's Army packing crates was used for part of the ceiling. My grandfather found enough plywood to fashion a side porch. We can't remember who brought the red asphalt shingles for the siding, but they weren't quite enough to cover the whole house.

Gray ones were used to patch the empty spaces. To an outsider, it looked like an old shack. To my family, it was paradise.

There was no indoor plumbing in those early days. An outhouse was constructed on the back of the property; an old-fashioned water pump was in front.

The garden was overflowing with Southern favorites -- long neat rows of corn, okra, tomatoes, greens, peppers and beans.

It was there, for the next 40 years, our family gathered during the summer to enjoy the fresh air, each other and amazing country meals.

We woke up to the smells of coffee that my grandmother percolated on the stove in a white porcelain pot, and a country breakfast that always included grits.

Butter beans picked fresh from the garden were shelled on a table, under the pine tree, before lunch and served for dinner in big steaming bowls.

Fresh picked corn was roasted on a makeshift grill my grandfather made using an old screen door balanced over a pit of coals with bricks.

Chicken that had been soaking in a big earthenware crock overnight in a marinade of vinegar, fresh garlic and roasted cumin seeds was deep fried outside in a large, black Dutch oven.

And then there was dessert: my grandmother's cobblers, prepared with the fresh fruits of summer. Our favorite, her blueberry cobbler, was made with berries that grew wild along the edge of the property.

The responsibility of the picking went to the children. Using empty coffee cans, tied around our necks with twine, we picked and ate berries for hours, with stained fingertips and lips as an added bonus.

They were a delicious treat right off the bush and even better in grandmother's cobbler.

Fresh from the oven with the juices bubbling through and around the flaky brown crust, which she put on the top and bottom, it is the stuff of family lore.

While technically a cobbler is a fruit pie without the bottom crust, what my grandmother created on those summer days was a cobbler, no matter how you slice it.

Sandra Pinckney, a former Baltimore TV journalist, is host of "Food Finds" on the Food Network. Send comments to unisun@baltsun. com.

BLUEBERRY COBBLER

Serves 8

FILLING (9-inch dish):

8 cups fresh blueberries

1 cup water

3 / 4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 / 4 teaspoon salt

squeeze of lemon

1 / 2 stick unsalted butter for dotting (thinly sliced)

CRUST (double crust for 9-inch pie):

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 / 4 cup chilled lard cut into pieces and frozen for 10 minutes

1 / 2 cup plus 2 tablespoons ice water

For filling, wash berries and pick out all stems and bad fruit. Combine berries, water, sugar, flour and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes. Taste for seasonings, adding more sugar if necessary. Add a squeeze of lemon.

For crust, put flour, salt and chilled lard in a large mixing bowl and quickly blend with a pastry cutter or your fingertips until it is the texture of cornmeal. Sprinkle in the water 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing until all the flour is moistened. Use a quick, light touch to avoid melting the lard and overworking the dough, which makes a tough crust. Gather the dough into 2 balls, shaping them into flattened rounds. Refrigerate overnight if you wish.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Roll out half of the dough to an eighth of an inch thick and use it to line a 2-quart, 2-inch-deep baking dish. Trim the edges.

Gently prick the bottom and bake for about 10 minutes.

Roll out the other half of the dough large enough to cover to top of the cobbler. Trim as needed.

Fill the baking dish with the cooked berries. Tuck the trimmed bits -- cut in inch pieces -- into the berries. Dot with pieces of thinly sliced unsalted butter. Lay the top dough over. Cut a few 1-inch slits to allow the steam to escape.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 and bake for 30 to 45 minutes more, until the crust is a deep golden brown and the filling begins to bubble through the slits.

Adapted from "The Gift of Southern Cooking" by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock

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