"An apple is an excellent thing - until you have tried a peach. " — George DuMaurier
There is something about using my granddaddy’s old cast iron skillet to make peach cobbler that makes me happy. It’s an old 10″ black skillet, shiny with its seasoning. Granddaddy used it well; he was an avid cook and was very good at it. However, his sophisticated palate was sometimes lost on my little sister and me.
At the time, as children, we thought some of the things he made were too odd. The "weirdest" things I remember were his addition of black olives to spaghetti sauce, and his making buckwheat pancakes with real maple syrup instead of white flour pancakes with Log Cabin brand syrup, like we had at my house. Of course, I would love those pancakes now; I still remember exactly what they tasted like, and I’d love to have them straight off his hot skillet today. I really like black olives now, as well. If only I could sit and enjoy one of those meals with him now; I wouldn't complain a bit.
Of course I can’t do that, but I do feel a connection with Granddaddy when I use his cast iron skillet now. I make biscuits in it, as well as cornbread. It gives them both the perfect, crusty bottom. I pan fry steaks in it occasionally, too, with butter and onions. Scrumptious, and perfect when you can't grill outside.
One of my favorite things to make in Granddaddy’s iron skillet is peach cobbler. You can make this cobbler with other fruits, of course, such as blackberries or blueberries. Perhaps even apples! That would be perfect in the fall, with lots of butter and cinnamon.
What I love most about this cobbler recipe is how rustic it looks, and how nice the crust turns out. Of course, this cobbler is also delicious made in a glass baking dish; I sometimes make it in my 8x12-inch dish when granddaddy’s skillet is being used for making some other delicious food. The edges aren’t quite as crusty and wonderful as from the skillet, but I have yet to have anyone turn down a second serving, so I think it’s ok.
Here’s the recipe, followed by a recipe for my homemade vanilla extract. Now is the time to make it, as the holiday baking season will be here before you know it.
Iron Skillet Peach Cobbler
1 stick unsalted butter
4 cups peach slices (or other fruit)
1 cup sugar
1 cup plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place the butter in the skillet, and put in warm oven to melt, for five minutes or so. (Don’t let butter turn brown; keep an eye on it)
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Use a wire whisk to combine it well.
Add to flour mixture sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. Mix well.
Remove skillet from oven, and tilt it until all sides are coated with the melted butter.
Pour melted butter into the batter, and stir until well-combined.
Pour batter into hot skillet, and then pour peaches and any juices they’ve released into the center of the batter.
Place in 350 degree oven, and bake until the top is golden brown, or a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. This may take up to an hour, depending upon your oven.
Remove, let cool down a bit, and then serve warm with vanilla ice cream, or homemade whipped cream on top.
Next, I want to share a recipe that you’ll be able to use all winter long if you’ll make it now: homemade vanilla extract.
Most of us who bake go through a lot of vanilla extract. It makes our desserts taste fabulous! However, it can get expensive to use the real thing. I choose not to use imitation vanilla extract, even though it’s less expensive.
Why? Well, imitation vanilla is made from artificial flavorings, some of which come from wood processing byproducts, and often contain chemicals. And “vanilla flavoring” is usually a combination of imitation vanilla extract and real vanilla extract. Not so great, really, though a slight step up from the completely fake kind.
All of that to say this: if you are going to all the trouble to bake for your family, use the best vanilla! Why add more chemicals to your family’s diet, or yours?
Here is the solution to the expense, if that is what is troubling to you: make your own pure vanilla extract! It’s so very easy, and it tastes wonderful. I’ve been using the bottle I made for nearly a year now. Here’s how I did it:
Buy a bottle of bourbon or vodka.
Buy three vanilla beans per 8 oz. of alcohol. Now, it’s important to know that buying them in the spice aisle at the grocery store is not at all an economical way to purchase them. I’ve seen a bottle containing one…just one…vanilla bean in the spice aisle and it was marked $14. That’s ridiculous.
I buy my vanilla beans online (search Amazon or other shopping sites for ‘whole vanilla beans’) or at World Market, where they package them in multiples and sell them at a much lower price.
Once I have alcohol and vanilla beans in hand, here’s how I proceed:
Split the vanilla beans with the tip of a sharp knife, leaving the top one inch uncut. Spread the beans open a bit to expose interior.
Drop the appropriate number of vanilla beans into your bottle of alcohol, including any seeds that may have fallen out. Remember, about 1 bean per eight ounces of alcohol.
Close bottle tightly, and place in a dark, cool cabinet for two months or so to steep. Every once in a while, give the bottle a good shake, and put it back in the cabinet.
By holiday baking time, you’ll have more than enough of the best vanilla extract you can use.You can replenish these bottles, as well; you need not throw away your vanilla beans when the bottle gets low. Just add more alcohol and let it steep. See? Economical!
In addition to improving your own baking, homemade vanilla is a great gift idea for your baking friends. You can divide it up into small mason jars tied up with a ribbon, or find some small bottles to divide it among and make your own labels, etc. Have fun with it!
In just a couple of months, you can make your own pies, cakes, cobblers, cookies and other delicious baked goods with your own homemade vanilla extract. Enjoy!
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph." She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three young adult sons who are considerably taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at whatsouthernfolkseat.com.