Cobbler of a Different Shape


Sep 13

Blackberry cobbler. Hot, sweet cobbler filling the house with a steamy aroma from your modern kitchen all the way back to wagons on the trail west. What might surprise you about this delicious treat is that what you pictured wasn’t what everyone else did.  It surprised no one more than me.

Years ago when I came to the south along my wanderings from the Pacific Northwest, I heard the word spoken with delight at a covered dish dinner. My mouth watered immediately. I’d wandered long from home and the thought of that homemade goodness filled corners I didn’t know were empty. I rushed to the dessert table and found…half a pie, but no cobbler.

I asked after the cobbler, hoping if the dish was empty there was another lurking somewhere. I was directed to the half a pie. It seemed in the south a cobbler was a pie without a bottom crust, nothing like the cobbler I’d grown up enjoying.  I’m a cook so I solved my cobbler craving on my own, but the half a pie bothered me.

Where I grew up cobbler was something trappers and lumberjacks wrapped in a handkerchief and took with them into the woods. Frontierman carried it with them or made it in a campfire skillet.  When I discussed it with my southern friends I had to start calling it frontiersman cobbler so they didn’t come to dinner looking for half a pie.

Great Grandma Allen’s Cobbler was just one of many variation that evolved from a concept of flour, fruit, fat and sugar over the centuries – mine most resembling a hybrid of dump cake and buckle.

The recipe for her cobbler (and my diabetic variant) awaits below!

A Little History

Cobbler journeyed to our country and out onto the wagon trails from much earlier origins. Gallete’s – essentially free form pies – originate back to before Egyptian Pharaohs. The tomb walls of Ramses II included images of these early pastries.  The Greeks took over the tradition, reportedly developing a flour-water paste wrapped around meats to seal in juices while baking. Rome took the recipes when they conquered Greece – and probably much earlier. The wealthy and educate Romans included meat in every course (even dessert: secundae mensa). They encapsulated seafood and other meats in Roman puddings in a next evolution toward our modern pies. Roman roads and conquering armies carried these contained dishes throughout Europe. From Europe it eventually spread to the New World.

Use of cobbler to name the dish – rather than a person who repairs shoes – may have originated as slang term suggesting putting something together clumsily. It may also hav referred to it resemblance to cobblestone streets rampant in colonial America.

More cobbler history.

Cobbler Cousins

  • The Brown Betty: A popular colonial dessert of fruit, usually apples, laid between buttered crumbles and baked. Similar to French apple Charlotte or British bread pudding.
  • Buckle: a single layered cake with berries folded into the batter – very similar to a muffin in taste and consistency – and topped with a streusel. Alton Brown’s Blueberry Buckle
  • Cobbler:  A deep dish of fruit, sugar and/or honey topped with a drop biscuit crust.
  • Crisp: Sliced, tart fruit such as applies or cherries topped with a loose mixture of butter, brown sugar, flour and/or oats.
  • Crow’s Nest Pudding: a bowl-shaped crust filled with pudding and cored apples filled with sugar.
  • Dump Cake: Often prepared in a dutch over either in modern camping or back on the wagon trail, dump cake is created by adding essentially a cake batter atop a selection of fruit, adding butter atop the folded concoction then baking. Chuckwagon Blueberry Cobbler Dump Recipe.
  • Dutch Babies: This 20th century dish derived from the German Apfelpfannkuchen reverses the cobbler in a similar fashion to modern galettes.
  • Galettes:  Named like its Egyptian ancestor, the galette refers to a French dish composed of flat, free-form and/or round crust cakes topped with savory meats, vegetables or fruit.
  • Grunts or Slump: An early colonial adaptation of English steamed pudding, a grunt (Massachusetts) or slump (Vermont, Rhode Island or Maine) offer a simple dumpling-like pudding prepared atop a stove.
  • Pandowdy: A deep-dish dessert of molasses or brown sugar sweetened fruit – often apple – topped with a crumbly biscuit which is later pushed down into the fruit to absorb the juices.
  • Sonker:  An Appalachian dish, popular in the Carolinas, featured during the annual Sonker Festival held the first Saturday of October in Lower Gap, North Carolina at the Edwards-Franklin House. This deep-dish pie/cobbler features a wide variety of fillings from common peach and cherry to sweet potato or strawberry.

Frontier Cobbler Recipes:

Great Grandma Allen’s recipe:
  •  1 Cup Flour
  •  1 Cup Sugar
  •  1 Cup Fruit
  •  ½ teaspoon baking soda
  •  ½ teaspoon baking powder
  •  ½ Cup Milk
  •  3 Tablespoons butter.

In a bowl, mix dry ingredients.  Gradually add milk to the dry ingredients. Stir to blend.  Melt butter.  Add butter and fruit to batter.  Stir slightly to combine fruit. Pour in 8″x8″ pan.  Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool 5 minutes (should settle into a slight indention.)  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or pour on cold milk (preferred).

My diabetic variant:

Instead of 1 cup of sugar, use 1/2 cup of sugar for crystallization and 1/2-2/3 cup of splenda or a similar not-sugar. The lower the sugar amount, the more the cobbler seems to balloon. It’s not bad at 1/4 sugar & 3/4 not-sugar, but I prefer a smaller serving with the higher sugar because of the way the top crystallizes.


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