Cobblers were never meant to be pretty. Emerging as a makeshift version of the ever-popular pie recipe circulating Europe and the United States in the 1800s, this dessert was ‘cobbled’ together by the early American settlers using fruit – usually preserved, canned, or dried – and clumps of biscuit dough before baking it over an open fire.
During the early years of European settlement, many Dutch and English immigrants brought traditional pie recipes with them to the New World, adapting to what was available to them in America. As settlers moved westward in the early 19th century, access to fruit – peaches, plums, cherries – typically grown on the East Coast became increasingly more difficult. And while recipes for pie had circulated throughout the lands, travelers on the road had to make do with what they had: dried, canned, or syrup-preserved fruit, chemically leavened dough (using baking powder), and an open fire.
The cobbler is said to have been an improvisation of the much-loved pie into a trail-modified dessert. Fruit, however it came, was dumped into a Dutch oven, topped with globs of biscuit dough, and baked over an open fire until golden brown. Cobblers were quickly integrated into the settler diet, many choosing to eat the sweet dish for breakfast, as a first course, or as a main dish – it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the cobbler was officially labeled as a dessert.
Peach cobbler is believed to have come together in the same way as the first cobblers did: fruit, dough, and an open fire. Today, peach cobbler is a traditional dessert served in the Deep South, usually accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Other versions of the cobbler – tart, pie, torte, pandowdy, sonker, grunt, slump, buckles, crisp, croustade, bird’s nest pudding, and crow’s nest pudding – have elements in common (fruit, butter, sugar, and flour), but the recipe for a true cobbler remains nearly the same as ones that the American settlers used. By the 1950s, peach cobbler had become an American dessert staple, and in an effort to sell more canned peaches, the Georgia Peach Council declared April 13th National Peach Cobbler Day.