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Aug. 16, 2022

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Strawberry cobbler rewards the careful

Delicious dessert awaits those who resolutely follow recipe

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
4 Photos
Warm, sweet and bursting with strawberry flavor, this cobbler is just the thing -- if, unlike me, you follow the directions.
Warm, sweet and bursting with strawberry flavor, this cobbler is just the thing -- if, unlike me, you follow the directions. (Monika Spykerman/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

When my daughter was in first grade, she brought home a slender strawberry start with shiny green leaves. We didn’t have a veggie garden but I planted it in a pot and put it in a sunny spot. I don’t remember if it produced any strawberries that first year, but it did send out searching tendrils and created a bunch of baby strawberry plants. The next year, the little pot was overflowing with strawberries and I had to move the plants to a bigger pot. Then they outgrew that pot and I finally put them in the flower bed next to our front porch, where they simply took over. Every time I saw a little red strawberry, I’d remember my beautiful, strawberry-cheeked first-grader, flush with joy.

I haven’t bought a single strawberry plant in over a decade because my daughter’s strawberry spawned legions of additional plants. Some are growing in a big pot in my backyard, just as healthy and vigorous as ever, and there are seven strawberry plants in the flower beds beside the picket fence in our front yard. I also keep a couple strawberry plants in a hanging basket outside my kitchen window. I ignored them over the winter, stowing them in a corner with the tomato cages, but one day last month I went outside and there they were, with new green leaves and white flowers. They’re tenacious, these berries. (Although they’re not, botanically speaking, berries at all, but something called a pseudocarp, which is a rather unpleasant name for something so lovely.)

We have a tradition in our family that the first ripe strawberry goes to our daughter, a tribute to her horticultural contribution of many years ago. The second one I give to my husband and the third is all mine. I was lucky this year in that the third berry to come ripe was huge and very sweet, red all the way through. I plucked it in the morning spring sunshine. It got me thinking: I need a strawberry cobbler. And so do you.

But you don’t need the absolute, unmitigated catastrophe of a cobbler that I made.

Here’s where things went wrong: The recipe I found said to use 3 cups of strawberries. I thought, “If 3 cups are good, 4 cups would be better.” If there’s one pet peeve I have, it’s not enough berries in my dessert. So, feeling smug, I chopped up 4 generous cups of strawberries and mixed them with ½ cup sugar and ½ teaspoon nutmeg. That was my second mistake. I always add a dash of nutmeg to strawberries because, like salt, it brings out the flavor. It turns out that a little nutmeg is nice but too much nutmeg is bitter enough to wrinkle your tongue.

Strawberry Cobbler

Filling

3 cups strawberries

½ cup sugar

Dash nutmeg

Cobbler

1 cup flour

½ cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon lemon zest

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

½ cup (1 stick) butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Chop strawberries and mix with ½ cup sugar and nutmeg. Mix dry ingredients. Stir in milk, vanilla and lemon zest. Add 1 stick of melted butter and mix until just combined. Pour into buttered 11-by-8-inch baking dish. Spoon strawberries on top. Bake for 40 minutes.

Next, I ruined the batter. Things started off well enough — 1 cup flour, ½ cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon ginger powder and ½ teaspoon salt. As you may have guessed, I’m not a precision baker. When a recipe calls for ½ teaspoon of salt, I tip my saltshaker over the measuring spoon until it looks about right. Maybe a little extra salt falls out of the shaker but the end result is fine. However, I’d just refilled my salt shaker and the salt poured out faster than I’d anticipated. “Oh well!” I though. “A few extra grains of salt never hurt anyone!” Oh, the naivete!

The wet ingredients called for melted butter and warm milk. Instead, I cut the butter into the dry ingredients like biscuit dough, then added cold milk and a teaspoon of vanilla. I thought that a little lemon zest might add a bit of zing. Strawberry lemonade is delicious, so why not strawberry cobbler with a hint of lemon? I zested a whole lemon into the batter. That was about 2 tablespoons too much.

I poured the batter into a deep Corningware casserole dish and spooned the extremely juicy strawberries on top, then put everything into the oven at 375 for 45 minutes. I added five extra minutes of cooking time to account for the extra strawberries.

I pulled a decent-looking cobbler out of the oven, though it was a tad crispy around the edges. No worries! I spooned some into a bowl and took a big bite, expecting a little taste of heaven. Well, if heaven is an unpleasant combination of bitter, tart and salty, then yes, this dessert is divine. I should also say that if heaven has a soupy middle filled with soggy berries and hot, raw batter, then an angel eating my strawberry cobbler would feel right at home.

However, if you want strawberry cobbler that tastes good to mere mortals, then follow a recipe. (I’ve included the right way to make a strawberry cobbler. And don’t put it in a deep casserole dish, but use a wide, shallow baking pan.)

My first-grader is about to finish her freshman year of college. The last two years have been, like my ill-fated cobbler, kind of a disaster, with hopes for her future raised and dashed on the hard rocks of reality. Nevertheless, she persists. She carries on with more cheerful determination than I myself can manage most days. Sometimes she stops me in the kitchen to tell me about something that has excited her interest and I can still see, in her round cheeks and feathery eyelashes, the first-grader who brought me a strawberry and asked me to look after it.

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