Bill Bryson and Peach Cobbler

I grew up in Texas, and I know how to survive the summer. Mostly, for a redhead, this means to stay out of it. Austin sits at the same latitude as the Sahara Desert, with similar climate. Or in the words of Robin Williams: “It’s hot. Damn hot! Real hot!”
The only sane activities are conducted near water or in air conditioned buildings.
But there are compensations. This year, the peaches are especially large and sweet. This is due not only to the torrential, flooding rains that came around Memorial Day but also due to having at least one hard freeze in the winter. For some reason, peaches like these kinds of things. Although they are soft, delicious, and tender fruits, they are unaccountably tough.

Technically these are nectarines, the fuzz-free peach. Though fuzzless, these are still great in the cobbler. They also make a good still life subject.
“Technically these are nectarines, the fuzz-free peach. Though fuzzless, these are still great in the cobbler. They also make a good still life subject.”

When I was a child, our house had a creek in the backyard. Mom and Dad planted peach, plum and pear trees. We weren’t really great at growing things, but the fruit trees, especially the peaches, were tough then too. It helped that the creek was fed by natural underground springs to make up for our haphazard watering. We had big sweet peaches every summer. There were always too many of them, even with squirrels and birds and a variety of bugs gobbling them up. There were too many for me and my friends to just eat off the tree, though the sticky delight of that and then spraying off in the garden hose or jumping in the creek was a fantastic way to spend a summer evening.

But the best thing to do with peaches was make them into a cobbler. Not just any cobbler. This one: “Peach Cobbler Number Two”, submitted by Mrs. C.J. Erbacher of the Methodist Mother’s Round Table for their 1968 church cookbook. My mother had a copy of course, having been a member of the Methodist Round Table for a brief time. They required all members to wear armor and compete in jousts while singing hymns written by John Wesley himself. It was a demanding and exhausting group.

Methodists do not kid around when they make peach cobbler. The recipe calls for one and a half sticks of butter. You can use margarine and it will still be fine. (It won’t be all that much better for you though, so you might as well have the butter.)

The Methodists use this cobbler to make converts. They also use it to foment revolution in third world countries. This cobbler can heal deep emotional wounds, encourage litigants to settle amicably, and destroy your political opposition when served at your campaign events. It can also win the stomach (and therefore the heart) of your true love, especially if you add a scoop of ice cream.

The butter, sugar and peaches caramelize in this thing to make something that melds cake, pudding, pie and candy textures and flavors. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Stick your feet in a pool while you eat it. You’ll be glad you did. It almost makes up for the heat, torrential rains, locusts, and mosquito-borne diseases of that godforsaken hellhole I call home.*

Peach Cobbler #2
Submitted by Mrs. C.J. Erbacher

Sift together: 1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 tspn. Baking powder
Pinch salt.
Add ½ cup sweet milk (or enough to make a batter the consistency of pancake batter. I usually add ¾ cup) Add 1 teaspoon vanilla. Melt and brown lightly 1 and ½ sticks of margarine (butter) in a baking dish. While margarine is still hot, pour the batter over it, sprinkle with nutmeg, and add 1 can drained sliced peaches or use fresh ripe peaches, sliced. (Takes about three large or four medium peaches). Bake in a moderate oven (375 deg) for about forty minutes, or until golden brown. The batter will come to the top.

While healing deep emotional wounds with Cobbler Number Two, I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s One Summer. Bryson is one of my very favorite writers of all time. He is a master of the anecdote, and he mixes the events of the summer of 1927 in a way that…well…caramelizes them into a tasty and cohesive whole.

Lindbergh, shy and retiring, flies across the Atlantic in what is essentially a paper airplane, and is rewarded with crowds of adoring fans. He hates the fame. He loves flying. Babe Ruth, by contrast, loves the fame and the crowds and the resulting easy access to the ladies. He seduces Lou Gehrig’s wife, thereby turning their friendly rivalry for homeruns into something decidedly unfriendly. Herbert Hoover meticulously plans flood relief from the torrential Mississippi river floods of that summer, paving the way to his successful election as president. Four bankers meet in Europe and decide that the Federal Reserve will cut its discount rate for gold from 4 percent to 3.5 percent, to encourage owners of gold to mover their savings to Europe so they could enjoy higher returns. They figured that America could “absorb the stimulus of a small rate cut without going crazy.”

This was incorrect, and in fact led directly to the market going insane enough to cause its collapse, which brought us The Great Depression. This in turn was blamed on Herbert Hoover. This in spite of the fact that he had nothing to do with it, and his predecessor, Calvin Coolidge, preferred dressing up as a cowboy to actually acting like a president. There’s more. It gets complicated and rich and full of tasty digressions, which is what Bryson excels at.

So you’ve got your instructions. Pick up One Summer, make this cobbler, and go jump in the lake. Or try wading in a creek near a grove of peach trees. Watch out for Methodists.

• “That Godforsaken Hellhole I Call Home” is a great song by the Austin Lounge Lizards, who know of what they sing.

Marilyn Rucker is an author and singer/songwriter living in the blazing inferno that is summer in Austin Texas. Her mystery novel, Sax and the Suburb, is available at and
Marilyn in yellow dress at piano


Scroll to Top