Last night, when I was lamenting on Facebook that I needed something light-hearted to add to today’s agenda of dental visit, a funeral and finishing up our taxes, my friend Robin pointed out that today is #NationalPeachCobblerDay. Making peach cobbler today was far more appropriate than she knew.
Peach cobbler was one of my dad’s favorite desserts. In college, I worked part-time at B. Dalton Booksellers, and one day my dad asked me to special order a book for him: ‘New Southern Cooking’ by Nathalie Dupree. That my dad was requesting a cookbook was unique: he didn’t keep many cookbooks around. Some, yes, but not a lot. He had little notebooks of favored recipes, but for the most part, he could make a banquet out of whatever disparate ingredients he found in the fridge and pantry. He wanted this specific cookbook because he had watched an episode of Dupree’s cooking show on which she had made peach cobbler, and he wanted the recipe.
That recipe became a standard in the family. We’d make it when my grandmother brought peaches down from New Jersey. I have actually eaten this for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and it is literally the only food that I have so over-consumed that I made myself ill. I’m not going farther with that – you get the idea.
But why was it appropriate for today? Because it was the dessert that I took when my then-fiance and I had dinner with my dad and stepmother and their best friends, Chuck and Mary Jean. It was the perfect recipe to honor my dad’s best friend, who passed in May 2015 and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery today.
Chuck and my dad knew each other from my dad’s days as sergeant major/Enlisted Bandleader of the US Army Band, and Chuck was the installation command sergeant major of Fort Myer, VA. Their personalities blended seamlessly, and enjoyed many of the same activities. They spent as much of their spare time as possible together, often doing remodeling projects or building furniture. I remember that they made a beautiful sewing table for my stepmother, and I believe they made a gun cabinet for Chuck. (Until his dying day, Chuck claimed that I owed him $20 because I called my dad just as Chuck began to cut a board. The phone so distracted him that he cut it wrong and ruined the wood, so I owed him for the replacement.) Chuck also helped my dad install new lighting in the kitchen and install a new orchid room in the basement. When they weren’t building together, they were generally golfing.
On the day my dad died, we waited until Chuck and Mary Jean could get there to say goodbye before allowing my dad to be moved. Chuck and I accompanied his body out to the hearse, and stood there holding on to each other as he was carried away.
At the reception, Mary Jean put together an absolutely beautiful display of pictures of Chuck. Included were pictures from Chuck’s career: Viet Nam, various ceremonial events, performing in the Spirit of America, etc.:
In each photo, Chuck is the primary focus, save for one: the picture of Chuck and my dad from my wedding:
There was one image that was not included, though, because only I have the picture. It represents my favorite story about Chuck and my dad. My dad found a kit for an adorable teddy bear rocking chair. Chuck helped him make a them for two kids of TUSAB members, as well as a third one. Though he didn’t know it at the time, my dad had planned all along to give Chuck and Mary Jean the third chair to give to a child of their choosing. There was a fourth kit, which was intended for my children, but my dad passed before he was able to make it. When my daughter was about 3, I asked Mary Jean if Chuck would make the 4th chair for her. Having my dad’s best friend make it for her made it just as special for her. The answer was, “of course!” Mary Jean came over to collect the kit, and sat with Sam, read a story and just visited. When it was time for her to go, I carried the kit downstairs, and when Mary Jean raised the hatch of her SUV, I was floored: there was the chair that my dad had made. Sam – my dad’s namesake – was the child they chose to give it to.
And so in honor of two of the best guys of all time, I offer this recipe. The basis is the same Nathalie Dupree recipe that my dad loved. I have taken a little liberty with it, doubling the ingredients for the batter. You can use any fruit, really. I’ve even made crust alone and put stewed fruit over that. But, a piece of warm peach cobbler and a scoop of vanilla ice cream…you just can’t beat that.
To Daddy and Chuck, the world is a much better place for having you in it. We love and miss you both more than you could ever know.
1 cup cake flour
1 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
2 cups milk
½ cup unsalted butter
2 cups peaches, peeled and sliced, juices reserved
Preheat the oven to 350°. Put the butter in a 9 x 13-inch ovenproof dish place in the oven to melt.
While the butter is melting, combine the flours, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add in milk and mix to combine.
Once the butter has melted, remove the pan from the oven and pour the batter into the pan. Distribute the peaches and any juices evenly over the top of the batter. Put the dish back in the oven and bake until the batter is browned and has risen up and around the fruit, about 1 hour.