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Fruit Pies, History, and Thanksgiving Day Recipes

Here is a photo of a cobbler I made this fall. Apple and peach cobblers are much easier to make, including the pie crust, then most people think.

Starting today I am want to suggest some dishes for thanksgiving that have long been a part of American history-particularly the history of the south and its mixture of Native American, European, and African culinary traditions. Many of the recipes that I will share have been around since before 1776. Cobblers represent one the earliest desserts prepared on special occasion days like thanksgiving. They proved popular because they provided a way for poor people to collect often discarded very bruised and almost rotten old fruit to make a delicious inexpensive dessert. As I discuss in my book Hog and Hominy http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-14638-8/hog-and-hominy/reviews, in the British Empire fruit like peaches, apples, and berries were traditionally considered food to be cooked and purchased by poor folks and commoners. The English lower classes essentially prepared two types of fruits: those cooked and those uncooked.. The English elites believed raw fruit was unhealthy and caused fevers. As a result, they generally stewed or baked fruit until it was very soft, often using it in pies and tarts. The migration of this tradition is best illustrated by the number of different recipes for cobblers (also called bucklers in Virginia) found in southern cookery. For example, Louis Hughes, born into slavery in 1832 near Charlottesville, Virginia, recalled the peach cobbler recipe slaves used on a cotton plantation near Richmond where he worked. The peach cobbler was one of the prized dishes baked on the plantation on special occasions like Thanksgiving Day. He published his autobiography in 1897, but his memory of the peach cobblers baked was crystal clear:

The crust or pastry of the cobbler was prepared in large earthen bowls, then rolled out like any pie crust, only it was almost twice as thick. A layer of this crust was laid in the oven, then a half peck of peaches poured in, followed by a layer of sugar; then a covering of pastry was laid over all and smoothed around with a knife. The oven was then put over a bed of coals, the cover put on and coals thrown on it, and the process of baking began. Four of these ovens were usually in use at these feasts, so that enough of the pastry might be baked to supply all. The ovens were filled and refilled until there was no doubt about the quantity.

In short, Africans did adapt the culinary culture of the English as they prepared food for English planters in the Americas, particularly the English penchant for pies. Here’s a traditional peach cobbler recipe that would be perfect for Thanksgiving Day: http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/peach_cobbler/

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