A search for the history of the peach cobbler

Published 10:37 am Friday, October 18, 2019

By Dr. William H. Baker

Contributing Writer

The idea for this topic came from one of the staff at the Middlesboro Daily News. She’s an excellent cook, enjoys baking peach cobblers, and is one of several talented cooks at the newspaper.

Email newsletter signup

One might think it would be easy to go the internet and find a concise history of the peach cobbler. We’re told that it’s easy to find almost anything these days on the internet.

One of the first references I located was headlined “History and Legends of Cobblers.” Ah, that should be helpful, I thought. I learned that “…cobblers seem to be a variation of the pie…and that the pie was a development from the Roman idea (2nd Century B.C.) of sealing meat inside a flour and oil paste as it cooked.”

But what about the peach cobbler? No help yet.

I did find notes about cobblers on an internet site, what’s cooking America.net. Not news to tri-state cooks, but here’s an excerpt: “Cobblers are an American deep-dish dessert or pie with a thick crust and a fruit filling (such as peaches, apples, or berries).

Well, you see, peaches are mentioned though not singled out.

The American Pie Council noted in observance of National Pie Day that “Over the years, pie has evolved to become what is today ‘the most traditional American dessert’.”

Although tempted to give up my search, I remembered that my friend at the Daily News really wanted to know more about one of her specialties, the peach cobbler. So for her, Teresa Jackson, and others who might read these words, I share a peach cobbler story that dates back in American history to the mid-1800s.

A home economics professor at Lincoln Memorial University published A Civil War Cookbook in 1961. Among hundreds of recipes, she included peach cobbler to provide a glimpse of how cooks a hundred and fifty years ago prepared this delicacy. The professor was Myrtle Ellison Smith, a native of the tri-state area, who spent years collecting recipes for her publication. It may not have been the first record of a homemade peach cobbler, but it is worth citing as an example of what our forebears considered a fine dessert. Here’s the recipe, not as detailed as today’s directions might be:

“Take a good-size dish like a pudding dish; line the sides with good paste, and fill the dish with good peaches, pared and halved; sweeten according to your taste and the flavor of the peaches. Place a small cup in the center to keep the crust from sinking down; roll out a crust considerably thicker than for pies, just large enough to cover the top of the dish, cut a slit each way in the center and place over the peaches; bake a crisp brown, and eat with cream and sugar, or sweet sauce. Canned peaches may be used if convenient.”

Compare that with current recipes for cobblers. Quite different, but the finished baked cobbler was probably enjoyed as much in 1860 as the one baked today.

William H. Baker is a Claiborne County native and former Middlesboro resident. Email: wbaker@limestone.edu