My family’s farm, Cliffview, is located on the very edge of the Great Smoky Mountains and shadowed by the bona fide Rocky Top mountain which rises to the east above a bend in the French Broad river where my ancestors have lived for over seven generations. We are genuine hillbillies descended from the North of Scotland and blood tied to a large piece of mostly uncultivated land whose two most reliable crops are wild raspberries and rocks.
When I was a child, I spent long, lazy weeks at Cliffview where entertainments like throwing sticks in the river and eating speckled green apples comprised the bulk of available amusements. This, I think now, was a conspiracy between my mother (a librarian) and her sister (a librarian) to induce me read through the torpor of those hot summer days. A trip to town meant a stack of new library books I greedily tore through after which I would sneak one my aunt’s more lurid selections like Danielle Steel’s Season of Passion. Her book choices both baffled my ten-year old sensibilities and inexplicitly left me ravenously hungry. When I grew three inches taller that summer and my mother told other mothers it was from the good mountain air, I secretly knew it was really from the influence of reading about all those heaving bosoms.
It is possible, though, that the wild raspberries had something to do with it.
The raspberry brambles skirting the edge of the shadowy forest where wildcats still live today continue to be covered with berries that burst with dark juices, attracting wasps, Japanese beetles, black bears and my aunt, who on a hot June morning would pull me into stiff blue jeans and my uncle’s worn-out denim work shirt and haul me and my cousins up the mountain in the back of the Ford cattle truck to pick berries until we were so scratched and bitten we looked like we’d wrestled with barbed wire. Bumping home on rutted dirt roads, the shallow pans of berries lined the edges of the truck bed, (covered with old pillowcases to protect them from dust) the fruit so fragile that more than two layers would crush the berries beneath.
When we returned home in the afternoon, we would pick over the berries, removing the stray beetle or unripe chokeberry, and my aunt would make jam and freeze berries for later cooking. At the end of that sweltering, sweet day she would make platters of raspberry-filled pancakes with fresh whipped cream and spoonfuls of syrupy berry jam. After tepid baths, we’d pull on line-dried cotton nightgowns and sit quietly on the front porch overlooking the river and swing to the sounds of the rusty porch swing chain and the water lapping the riverbank below.
Simple Raspberry Skillet Cobbler
(My recipe calls for raspberries but this recipe can use any type of berry or fresh peaches. Be sure to serve it warm with vanilla ice cream)
1 pint fresh raspberries (or 10-ounce package frozen)
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
1. Place a 10-inch cast iron skillet in the oven and preheat oven to 350degrees
2. Stir together the raspberries, ½ cup sugar, brown sugar, 2 Tablespoons flour, lemon juice and nutmeg in medium bowl.
3. Melt the butter in the skillet until it starts to brown around the edges and foam. It is IMPORTANT to have the butter sizzling hot!
4. While the butter is melting, stir together the remaining ½ cup flour and sugar, the baking powder, salt and milk in a large bowl, just until combined. The batter should be about the consistency of pancake batter.
5. Pour the batter over the butter in the hot skillet. Do not stir. Immediately spoon the berry mixture over the top of the batter. Bake until the crust looks golden and crisp, 30 -35 minutes.