Saturday, August 15, 2015

Molly's Pinwheel Peach Cobbler

A historical recipe that might be redefining cobbler topping for me!

Happy VJ Day, everyone! On August 15th, 1945, Japan announced their surrender, thus finally ending World War II. Like VE Day, many people around the world went nuts, rushing to places like Times Square or their town centers to throw parties and celebrate that the war was well and truly over. For many servicemen and women, this was the day they had been waiting for anxiously since VE Day. Troops in Europe had been expecting to be demobilized to join the forces already in the Pacific to spearhead an invasion of the Japanese home islands, and this finally took away the anxiety that they would have won the war in Europe only to get killed trying to end the war in the Pacific. This meant that many of them could finally, finally return home to their families, and were eager to get on the first boat home they could get.

Troops in the Pacific were similarly elated, especially the Marine and Army divisions that were still recovering from rough fighting on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Although it would still take a long time for many people to return home - both European and Pacific troops needed to participate in occupation duties if they didn't have enough "points" to return home - they began to think a lot more hopefully about what the future held and of course, that included soon being able to indulge in comfort food they hadn't been able to have since shipping out.

For that reason, I decided the best thing to make today would be an old fashioned peach cobbler, something soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines no doubt fantasized about on nights where they were feeling homesick and would soon get to enjoy once they got home. Although this is a little different from other cobblers I've made, I can safely say this was tasty and definitely worth bringing to any VJ Day parties you might be planning yourself.

VE Day tends to be the day that gets the most attention from modern audiences, but VJ Day was just as big of a deal, if not moreso. That famous photo of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square? VJ Day. Don't listen to anyone who tries to say it's VE Day. My grandfather and grandmother - who were eleven and nine respectively at the time - said they remember their neighborhoods going crazy for VJ Day, and my grandma said she definitely remembers all the kissing going on in Times Square. She thought it was very romantic!

Some trivia about VJ Day: as you might be able to tell from the newspaper above, VJ Day was announced on August 14th in the United States, but on August 15th in Japan and the rest of the Pacific because of the International Date Line. Technically, the US considers September 2nd to be the real VJ Day, as that's when the surrender documents were formally signed on the USS Missouri, while the UK chose August 15th. Thus, your official VJ Day is subject to some interpretation and personal preference. I decided to go with the 15th because that's when it was technically celebrated in the Pacific, and this blog runs on EST. It helped that I would also be home from work and able to spend some time in the kitchen!

The newspaper I included in the photoshoots was given to me as a birthday present this year after being discovered at a flea market by my grandma, because everyone I know knows the easiest ways to get me excited is to show me stuff about World War II and Jamestown. The headline is pretty shocking and definitely offensive for a modern reader - I don't think the Hartford Courant would ever publish something like this today! I'm really glad we've come this far since 1945 - but I was really excited to have my hands on an authentic newspaper from the end of the war. It's pretty fragile, so I haven't done more than skim the front page's articles. It's just an eight page extra issue printed when the news broke, so almost everything is to do directly with the Japanese surrender and the situation in the Pacific, including goings on in Russia and China.

The recipe for pinwheel cobbler I made today comes from my grandma's aunt's copy of Woman's Home Companion Cookbook, which was published in 1942. Although the recipe calls for apples, I decided to make it with peaches for a few reasons: peaches are in season right now, and after conferring with one of my other friends with an enthusiasm for learning about World War II in the Pacific about what to do for VJ Day, I decided peaches would be a fitting tribute to her favorite 1940's historical figure. People who have watched The Pacific or read Helmet for My Pillow might remember Bob Leckie's misadventures with eating way too many canned peaches after stealing some supplies from Army troops stationed on Guadalcanal with the Marines. After I decided I was doing a cobbler, peaches became the obvious fruit to include.

Sorry Bob. Maybe I'll do something with Oreos next year.

You start off with one and a half quarts of peaches, which basically means six cups. I sliced up probably eight or nine peaches to fill my baking dish, which was greased before I dumped the fruit in. Next, you pour a half cup of honey, a tablespoon of lemon juice and a pinch of salt over the fruit and mix it all together. In theory, you're supposed to then dot the top of it with butter, but I promptly forgot to do that and only just remembered while writing this post. Oops! I guess we can say it's more wartime-y that way. We were out of butter this week.

Next comes your topping. Unlike most cobblers I've ever made or eaten, instead of having a biscuity topping or what's effectively cake batter poured over the top of the fruit, this one features little cinnamon brown sugar pinwheel pastries baked on top. On the opposite page to the cobbler recipe is a recipe for fruit pinwheels, and you're told to make the dough the same way, but change the filling.

You combine two cups of flour, three and a half teaspoons of baking powder, three tablespoons of sugar and three and a quarter teaspoons of salt in a bowl, and then cut in six tablespoons of shortening until the dough resembles "coarse corn meal". Once that's done - which is always easier to do with shortening! - you add in a lightly beaten egg and a half cup of milk, and then blend it together with a fork into a dough.

One thing I really enjoyed about this dough was that they didn't emphasize needing to touch it as little as possible, and in fact told you to knead the dough for about thirty seconds after turning it onto a floured surface. Once that was done, you rolled it out to be about a quarter of an inch thick, and then covered it with melted butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. This then gets rolled up into a log, which gets its ends pinched shut and sliced into segments an inch wide. These get layered as evenly as possible over your fruit!

I was definitely interested to see how these would bake in the oven, because at first, it didn't seem like this was going to cover enough of the filling. But after forty minutes in a 400 degree oven, they did expand quite a bit!

That being said, now that I know how they grow in the oven, I might make two batches of the pinwheels to make sure they cover the whole cobbler, or more of it, anyway. Or I guess I could use a smaller pan next time!

It's a pretty soupy cobbler, but the pinwheels to make it easy to create portions for people - scoop off one pinwheel with some fruit and juice, and you've got a serving!

The recipe says to serve this with whipped cream or a hard sauce, but I went for some good old fashioned vanilla ice cream, because this is VJ Day and we're celebrating.

The result is a warm, tasty cobbler with a really interesting topping. My one complaint is that after going through the trouble of chopping up fresh peaches, the honey, lemon juice and salt cooking together with them made them taste exactly like canned peaches. This wasn't a bad thing, really, but it definitely would've been faster to just use canned peaches because the flavors would have been virtually the same. I don't do a lot of (or any) hand canning at home, so I had no real idea what this combination of ingredients would taste like when all was said and done, but if I did, I think I'd definitely have just saved time and gone with canned.

Still, the peaches were sweet without being too sweet, and the cinnamon brown sugar pastry pinwheels on top made for a much more interesting and flavorful topping than just a simple biscuit or cake topping would have been. It was a nice textural difference too, as the pastry was very soft-but-crispy and didn't get too gooey sitting in the fruit juice. The recipe suggests adding some nuts or currants into your pinwheels if you want a little extra texture and flavor, and I don't think they're necessary, but it definitely sounds like a yummy addition. I definitely think it needs something like whipped cream or ice cream to help give you a break from the peach flavor, but that's pretty standard for a cobbler or pie.

Overall, this was a super tasty 1940's recipe that I would happily bring to my table again, and is definitely something I'd be happy to eat at my homecoming celebration if I was returning home from a long tour of duty overseas. Plus, it was pretty quick to make, and can serve a decent number of people, another plus for a dish you're bringing to an impromptu VJ Day party! I'm definitely planning on making this again any time someone's in the mood for a cobbler.

In closing, I know I've said things like this before, but it is really hard for me to believe that it's been seventy years since the end of World War II. In a lot of ways, it feels a lot more recent than that because we're still dealing with many parts of its legacy, but we're reaching a point where those who lived through it are passing on, and the rest of us need to make sure that their sacrifice and stories aren't forgotten. VJ Day marked the end of the most violent conflict in human history, and it's our responsibility to make sure there's never a more violent conflict. I hope we can all take a minute to reflect on how to make that possible, and how to continue honoring the sacrifice of the people of every nationality who made the life we have today possible.

Happy VJ Day, everyone! Thanks for indulging me in another anniversary soapbox.

Hopefully the cobbler makes up for it!


  1. This cobbler looks delicious. My grandma was 8 on VJ Day and she remembers piling into the neighbor's ice truck with other neighborhood kids and parading around town cheering and celebrating!

    1. Aw, that's so cute! I love hearing all the stories about how crazy people went when the news broke. It sounds like we missed out on a lot of fun parties, haha.

  2. The cobbler was delicious! I love the pictures of the girls. And thank you for giving me perspective!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I definitely think we might need to make an apple version this fall. ;)