By Elizabeth Gracen:
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I've done pretty well with not totally falling down the tunnel of wanderlust during our long confinement since the first lockdown. Yes, I have moments of searching Zillow for a vacation house that I will probably never move to, and yes, I always, always, always pine for Venice, Italy (I just can't help it), but for the most part, I've made due with knowing that hopefully one day, if the fates allow, I will travel to somewhere really beautiful again and get to relax. I wish that for all of us.
In the meantime, I've settled for looking at old photos on my phone of various trips that my family has taken over the years. Among them are lovely chunks of photos from numerous vacations spent on Martha's Vineyard with our best friends who have a home there and who have always extended their hospitality to us during the summer—usually around the Fourth of July. We haven't traveled there in a couple of years now, but I long for a return.
Summer days on the Vineyard are spent watching sunsets, floating in the harbor, riding bikes to the fresh seafood shop to retrieve that night's dinner (usually little neck clams), swatting at mosquitos, drinking wine, watching fireworks and old fashioned parades . . . and making dessert.
I've mentioned it before: I'm a decent cook but a pretty terrible baker. I don't know what the deal is, but I always seem to mess it up. Maybe I could take a baking class to remedy the situation, but I usually just let someone else make dessert, or I do what many red-blooded Americans do—I go to a bakery and buy it!
However, on one of my last trips to the Vineyard, I picked up a local publication near the front door of an organic grocery we always visit. It is called edible Vineyard and is published four times a year and distributed all around Martha's Vineyard. It contains some of the best, easiest, and most reliable baking recipes I have found. And guess what? For some reason, I don't screw it up!
In this installment of Favorite Recipes, I'm adding my favorite dessert from that publication: The Peach Pandowdy. Honestly, I didn't know what a pandowdy was until I read this recipe, but it is now my go-to dessert to make in a pinch. It's fast and easy and really delicious with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream. I've made it with peaches and various other stone fruits, and it never fails.
The history of the pandowdy finds its crusty roots in colonial America, rumored to be the favorite dessert of Abigail Adams, the wife of second U.S. president John Adams. There are references that the pandoulde was a word for Somerset custard, but for all intents and purposes, it has become a truly American recipe—traditionally made with apples.
The word dowdy comes from the English word doude, which is defined as "an inelegant person or thing." Because the pandowdy crust is made by cutting rough squares out of the dough and randomly placing the squares over the fruit, the “inelegant” aspect makes sense, and maybe this informal approach to baking is why I can actually do it!
I’ve never made this recipe with apples—only stone fruits. When Autumn rolls around, I will give the apples a try, but there are still some farmer’s market peaches to be had in my neighborhood, so that will suit me just fine until the leaves start to fall.
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
7 tbsp. unsalted butter—very cold, cut into small pieces
4–5 tbsp. ice water
Milk, cream, or buttermilk to brush over the crust
2 lbs. firm, ripe peaches, cut into 1” pieces
1 lemon—zest the whole lemon, juice ½ of the lemon for recipe
1/3 cup sugar (if your peaches are super sweet, you can use less—eat one to make sure!)
1 tbsp. flour
Time to make the dough!
Combine flour and salt in a bowl. Make sure the butter is cold when you add it to the mixture. You’re going to rub the butter into the flour mixture, very quickly, until the mixture looks like little peas.
Add 3–4 tbsp. cold water and stir it into the mix. You can add additional water, bit by bit, a tablespoon at a time, until it all comes together into a nice, smooth dough.
Pat the dough into a round and wrap in plastic wrap and put it into the fridge until chilled. It should take about 2 hours, but you can leave it in overnight.
Traditionally, you would cook this in an 8” skillet, but you can use a pie plate if that is what you have. Add peaches, lemon zest, juice, sugar, and flour. Toss it all until well combined.
Now it’s time to roll out the dough. Take it out of the fridge and use a rolling pin to roll it out into a ¼” square. Cut the dough into rough, freehand large squares.
Cover the fruit with the dough squares, overlapping them slightly to allow some of the filling to be visible in between the squares.
Brush the squares with the milk, cream, or buttermilk.
Heat the oven to 400° F.
Bake the pandowdy for 30 minutes. About midway through, use a wooden spoon to lightly push the browning dough into the filling.
Reduce the heat to 375° F and keep baking until the fruit is bubbly and the crust is golden. This should take about 15 minutes or so.
When it is golden and perfectly bubbly, remove from the oven and let it cool a bit before serving.
Top with a dollop of fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Delicious!
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