Ashley Strickland is an associate producer at CNN.com. In her previous job as a traveling sports photographer, she picked up plenty of souvenir recipes that she'll be sharing over the next few months in her new Fare Play column.
Eating isn’t always on my mind, especially when I'm focusing on the task at hand. When I was working as a sports photographer over the last two years, this happened six days out of every seven. The phrase "starving artist" definitely hit home, but every once in a while during my travels, food was what drove me.
in February 2010, my adventures took me from my college town of Athens, Georgia across the state to Elberton (“Granite Capital of the World”) to pursue a community journalism project. I was hot on the trail of a tip that might turn an assignment into a sports shoot; the Brock University rowing teams had driven 15 hours down from St. Catharines, Ontario to participate in a one-week training camp on Lake Russell. I didn’t know them, they didn’t know me and they had no idea I was about to show up.
I knew the first time head coach Peter Somerwil cracked open his cabin door and I smelled an heavenly aroma drifting from the oven, he had to be cooking comfort food. I needed to know more so I could make it for myself later. He shrugged in reply and said he was making a peach upside-down cake. Oh, Lordy.
It became a quest, not only for sports photography, but a fabulous recipe as well.
Of course later, in the midst of a photo-editing blitz, I called my mom to catch up. Gifted baker and creative cook extraordinaire, she asked the one question I couldn’t answer, namely "Why didn’t you ask for the peach upside-down cake recipe?"
This February, I found myself driving the familiar route, this time a few hours further from my own home. Elberton was my destination once more, as the Brock rowers had returned for 2011’s training camp. I couldn’t wait to shoot the symphony of rowing again, see my old friend, and get that peach cake recipe. This time around, I hung out with the coaches and marveled as they put together their favorite meals while staying in small cabins on the lake.
Cooking is a part of their life during this week when they set up for a week’s stay to train rigorously, sometimes three times a day on the lake. It’s a mixture of eating healthy to sustain their top form and comfort foods they’ve grown up with in Ontario.
Another few whirlwind days of beautiful weather and equally beautiful rowing passed and at the end, I nearly begged for the peach upside-down cake recipe. Coach Somerwil was happy to share and wrote it down from memory, pausing to convert the measurements. He’s been making it since he was eight years old.
“It was one of the two things I started making as a kid because I wanted dessert,” he said. “For my mother, usually canned fruit was dessert and that wasn’t good enough for me.”
He also uses peaches most of the time (although you can use pineapple or pears), because the Niagara region is one of Canada’s two micro-climates where they can actually grow peaches.
As I was leaving, some of the rowers asked that I e-mail it to them. Somerwil didn’t share the recipe or the finished product with everyone, although it makes an appearance at the team cookout every year, and on the tables of other coaches visiting Georgia with their teams.
It was like a recipe for making gold, handwritten on a piece of notebook paper. I wouldn’t have it if my unusual travels didn’t introduce me to kind, fascinating people like Coach Somerwil and his rowing teams.
After making it for myself, I can say it is the perfect comfort food. The scent wafting from it as it bakes wraps around you like a hug. Digging into a slice, I can almost feel the breeze coming off of Lake Russell. And for me, it summons the memories of making 30 new friends from St. Catharines, Ontario.
But I warn you, it’s a test to make this cake without completely devouring it in one sitting.
Recipe provided courtesy of Peter Somerwil
Peach Upside Down Cake
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