Many gastronomes have a food “epiphany,” and I’m no exception. It was either 1985 or 1986, and my roommate and I went to Crook’s Corner for the first time. Crook’s was still run by Bill Neal, the “godfather” of Southern cooking, and I remember that meal like it was yesterday. She crab soup. Pimento cheese. Shrimp and grits. And a dessert that has become my primary summer staple — a four berry cobbler featuring sweet butter biscuits.
I talked to Bill Neal a fair amount back then, when I’d sit at the bar, being completely clueless about food and slowly soaking things in. I was a major science geek — working on my Ph.D. in molecular pathology of all things — but I had a love for history. And Bill Neal was certainly a food historian.
We talked about his dishes and how he claimed that he didn’t really come up with an original idea. He just made dishes that had been around for ages, perhaps “gussying” them up a bit, but it was simple, straightforward food.
That four berry cobbler is as pure and simple as it gets. I think I’ve made this dish at least 100 times over the years, and there hasn’t been a time where I thought it was a dud. And that’s because the dessert is all about the fruit. Blackberries, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. A little sugar and cinnamon. Topped with some sweet biscuits, this baked dish is summertime nirvana.
And it’s a very forgiving dish. Use other fruits, such as peaches and plums with the berries. I’ve made it with gooseberries, figs, currants and cherries. Just use several different kinds of fruit, as it is the combination of those flavors that create the incredible taste explosion.
No, Bill Neal didn’t invent this dish, but he’s the one who introduced it to me, and my dinner guests and I still thank him.
Four Berry Cobbler (Adapted from Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking)
- 8 cups mixed berries (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, sliced strawberries)
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 Tbsp. all purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 cups self rising flour
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. sugar
- 6 Tbsp. cold, unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup milk
- Flour for rolling out biscuits
- Sugar for sprinkling biscuits
Pre-heat oven to 425° F. Butter a baking dish large enough to hold the fruit. Combine the berries, sugar, flour and cinnamon in mixing bowl and gently toss well. Add to baking dish.
Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Cut cold butter into tablespoon-sized pieces, add to flour mixture, and cut in with a pastry cutter until butter is like coarse crumbs. Add liquid all at once, stir gently to bring it together, and turn onto a flat surface dusted with flour. Knead gently 2-4 times, folding the dough over itself. It will still be somewhat coarse. Scrape up dough, dust surface with flour, and roll out gently until about 3/4″ thick (you may also pat it out). Cut out biscuits with a round 2-3″ biscuit cutter. You’ll need to dip the cutter in flour after every other biscuit. You will also need to gather up the dough scraps and re-roll to maximize your yield. Place biscuits onto fruit and sprinkle biscuits with sugar. Bake for about 30 minutes or until biscuits are browned.
Serve with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or “naked.” Moan and groan at will.