I was doing more than the usual baking last year toward the end of my pregnancy with Eli. It was a good antidote to the uncertainty of our renovation, and it was certainly making my friends and family happy. Even my doula, who wanted me to go on a no-wheat, no sugar diet because I’d cultured positive for group-b strep, acknowledged that it would probably be less stressful for me to be hooked up to IV antibiotics during my labor (to prevent transmitting the bacteria to my baby), than change my diet and end my baking tear. The day we discussed this, as I recall, I’d baked both bread and a strawberry-rhubarb pie. (In the event, my water didn’t break until the minute Eli’s head popped out, rendering the antibiotic issue happily moot). Ben, always an excellent kitchen assistant, would wake up those days, during that sweet season of baking, asking, “What kind of pandowdy will we make today, Mama?”
Ah, pandowdy. A classic American dessert which is essentially pie for slobs. It has all the just-dump-the-fruit-in-the-pan appeal of a crisp or cobbler, but with the slightly fancy touch of a pie crust on top. Except you don’t have to prebake the crust, or roll it out very carefully, or even crimp the edges. In fact, part way through baking you slice it up and push the crust down under the fruit a bit so that the juice runs over the top and carmelizes the crust. Yum. It looks a mess (hence the name: pandowdy = dowdy in the pan), but tastes fabulous. Here’s an adaptation from Joy of Cooking and Deborah Madison’s lovely Local Flavors.
For the crust
1 c plus 2 tbsp flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 c butter, in chunks
1/2 tsp vanilla
2-3 tbsp ice water
Using a food processor, blend the flour, sugar, and salt together, then work in the butter until coarse crumbs form. Add the vanilla and sprinkle in just enough water for the dough to clump together with a few pulses of the food processor. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill while you prepare the fruit.
Preheat the oven to 400. Lightly butter a 2-quart baking dish.
For the filling
7-8 c fruit, chopped into large bite-sized chunks (I used rhubarb and strawberries, but you could use apple and rhubarb, apple, blueberries, peaches and blueberries, whatever you’ve got and sounds good)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c maple syrup or brown sugar
Toss the fruit with the other ingredients and spread in the baking dish.
Roll out the chilled dough to about 1/8 inch thick and about an inch wider than your dish (but don’t sweat it if the dough is a slightly different shape than your dish, leaving some gaps where the fruit is uncovered; this is pie for slobs, remember?). Lay the dough over the fruit, tucking the edges into the fruit.
Bake until the crust is light gold, 30-35 minutes. Remove the pandowdy from the oven and lower the heat to 350. Slice across the crust diagonally into 2-inch squares. Use a spatula to press the crust down into the fruit and tilt the pan to let the juices flow over the crust (don’t worry if there’s not much juice yet, and of course don’t worry about breaking or crushing the crust – that’s the point).
Return the dish to the oven and continue to bake until the crust is really golden and glazed and the fruit is tender when pierced, about 20-30 minutes more. If you remember, baste the crust with the fruit juices once or twice during this second baking. Serve warm , with vanilla ice cream.