A Garden of Eatin' -- apples

A Garden of Eatin' -- apples

As a girl, my grandmother and her family gathered apples with names like Yates, Horse, and Grimes Golden every fall from the trees on their South Georgia farm. They dried some and packed the keeper varieties snugly into barrels for storage in the root cellar; planning ahead for the cakes and pies they would enjoy all winter.

Things have changed in the eighty years since Grandma collected apples. Root cellars gave way to controlled cold storage and shoppers can now harvest apples year-round at the supermarket. But fall is still a special time for apple lovers. Old and new varieties appear at orchards, farmer's markets and roadside stands, available only a few weeks and ready for tasting and carrying home. These are apples grown for flavor, for baking, for all-round eating -- not for their shipping qualities or the blemish-free waxed perfection required by grocery stores. Here's where you'll find Arkansas Black, Mollies Delicious, and Stayman Winesap -- wonderful varieties not in your supermarket.

I have three apple trees growing in my garden: Arkansas Black, William's Pride and a mystery apple that has yet to produce fruit. They're still young, though, just 6 years old, and don't produce enough to satisfy my appetite.

So, I went to a pick-your-own orchard and got a little carried away. Okay, so it was more than a little. I picked. . . well, I'm embarrassed to say how many. Let's just say it's plenty to stock my root cellar. And my neighbor's. If either of us had one.

Now, I love apples -- especially the old varieties -- and I downed a few that night, relishing each crisp bite, but I barely made a dent in the mound overflowing the sacks on my counter.

So, first I made a luscious Fresh Apple Cake. Hearty and moist, it's filled with soft pieces of apple, tantalizing bits of pecan and glazed with an easy-to-make caramel icing.

I originally ate this at Grandma's. It was dessert for her delicious meal number 76,552 (seventy years of cooking three meals a day, 365 days a year taking into account childbirth, sickness and the occasional vacation).

This cake -- a concoction that defies the combination of its ingredients -- is so delectable I ate half of it in the two days we were there. When I got home, I couldn't rest until I baked myself one of my own.

I've modified Grandma's recipe a bit -- increasing the amount of apples and reducing the oil as much as possible without sacrificing moistness. Wherever it's served, it disappears rapidly amid raves and whispered requests for the recipe.

It's easy to make. You can use a grocery store basic like Golden Delicious or experiment with an apple variety Benjamin Franklin might have eaten. Feel free to use a blend of apples. It's best to use sweet or slightly tart apples that have a soft texture when baked, but try all kinds to see the difference it makes in the character of the cake. Whatever varieties you use, an apple corer/sectioner or one of those old-fashioned crank parers will speed up the process. They're fun to use, too.

Fresh Apple Cake

  • 1 cup corn oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 5 cups chopped fresh apple (4-5 medium)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup pecan halves to sprinkle on top

Peel, core and chop the apples. Set them aside. Beat the eggs, sugar and oil -- make sure you use corn oil for this recipe and not canola or a blend. Sift together the other dry ingredients and stir them into the egg, oil and sugar mixture. The batter will be fairly stiff and will turn a light brown or off-white color. Fold in the apples and chopped pecans and spoon the batter into a well-greased bundt or angel food pan.

Bake the cake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and let it cool in the pan. To remove it, put a plate on top of the bundt pan and turn the whole thing over so that the plate is on bottom and the bundt pan on top. Gently lift the pan off -- you may need to use a slight shimmying motion -- and the cake will remain on the plate, ready for icing. The caramel icing below is easy to make and a perfect complement to the cake, adding a hint of county-fair caramel apple flavor and just the right amount of sweetness without being overwhelming.

Easy Caramel Icing

  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter or margarine
  • 1/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cook the brown sugar, butter and milk together. Bring them to a boil and boil for 3 minutes, stirring frequently and watching closely so it doesn't burn. Pour the hot mixture over the powdered sugar and vanilla, beat rapidly and drizzle over the cake. Sprinkle with pecan halves and serve.

This cake is a wonderful dessert for any special occasion. Delicious with coffee or milk, it will stay fresh and moist for several days' worth of company. If you really want to delight your guests, send them home with a cake of their own -- a copy of the recipe attached to the top.

After I made (and ate) the applecake, there were still mounds of apples left to use. I stored some in my modern mini-root cellar -- the bottom right drawer of my refrigerator -- but there were plenty left.

Applesauce! I got out my parer/corer and went to work. Three hours later, I had 9 pints of homemade applesauce canned and ready to enjoy over the winter. The recipe is simple enough for a beginner to try. Tart apples produce the best sauce in my opinion.

Homemade Applesauce
Makes 9 pints

  • 4 pounds apples
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar (optional)

Peel, core and slice the apples. Put them in a 6-8 quart pot and add the water. Cover and heat until the apples are tender, stirring occasionally to prevent them from sticking. At this point, taste the sauce to see if you want to add the sugar -- it's not necessary for canning, it just depends on whether or not you like it. Add the sugar, if you deem it proper, and bring the sauce to a boil. For a smooth sauce, run the applesauce through a food mill or buzz it in a blender. I use a hand blender to cut down on the mess. If you prefer a chunky sauce, skip that step.

Transfer the apple sauce to clean pint jars, leaving one-half inch headspace. Run a rubber spatula around the inside of the jar to remove any air pockets, wipe the rim and threads clean with a damp cloth and add the lids. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.

Even after making apple cake, storing all the apples my fridge would hold and canning applesauce, I still had a few left. A jumble was perfect.

Call it an apple crumb, betty or crisp, it's a fast and delicious dessert. Unlike pies, there's no tricky crust to roll out. You can even make up the topping and the tossing mix ahead of time so that when you have an apple emergency you're ready -- you only have to slice the apples, toss and bake.

For the apples, use sweet baking varieties such as Rome, or even Golden Delicious for the tenderest crisp. Firmer, tarter apples like Granny Smith or Arkansas Black will give it more of a bite. You can make it in individual serving dishes for a special dessert or one big pan for everyone to dive into.

Now, if you don't know exactly what it is, that big pan of apple crisp could be mistaken for oh, say, turkey and dressing, like one unsuspecting coworker did when he spotted the pan on my desk one morning. He was brave enough to try a bite, though, and the rest of the crumble disappeared within minutes.

I'm not surprised. The crunch of the cookie-like topping, with its tempting toasted walnuts and hearty oats is perfectly matched by the sweet, tender apples with their perfect hint of cinnamon. It's delicious enough for breakfast -- and better for you than a donut.

Topping

  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup walnut halves

The topping can be made up to a month ahead of time and stored, tightly covered, in the refrigerator. First combine the butter, sugar, flour, and salt in a blender or food processor and blend just until mixture starts to form a dough. Add the oats and walnut halves and process for just a few more seconds to break up the nuts -- I like the look and taste of whole bits of oats in the topping, and you just get more flavor from walnuts when they're not pulverized.

Apple Toss Mix

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch

Stir all the ingredients together and store in an airtight container until you're ready to rumble -- I mean jumble. All you need now are the apples. . .

Apple Filling

  • 5 medium to large apples
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Core and slice the apples into tenths (peeling is optional), then toss them with the lemon juice and the toss mix until all the apple pieces are well-coated. If you use a tart apple, reduce the lemon juice to one tablespoon.

Set the apple mixture aside for at least 15 minutes to allow the sugar and salt to draw out the juice. The cornstarch and the sugar will thicken it into a luscious sauce as it cooks.

Next, put the apples into a 9 x 11-inch pan and sprinkle with the topping--it should cover all the apples. Bake at 325 degrees for about an hour and 15 minutes, or until the topping browns slightly and the apples are cooked. Use a knife to poke through the topping and test the apples for doneness; ideally, they should be meltingly tender.

Serve with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or just pour a little ice-cold cream over the top.

In my opinion, this crumble is best warm, but it's good at room temperature, too. I spooned myself out a cold bowl of this last batch and kept meaning to walk over to the microwave and heat it up, but I couldn't put my fork down long enough -- it's that irresistible. In fact, not-so-reliable sources tell me that it wasn't exactly a plain apple that Eve used on old Adam, but this apple crisp.

Hey, I said "not-so-reliable sources."

Well, it IS tempting.

About the Author Syndicated cooking columnist Leigh Abernathy has been an avid gardener for over 10 years and has been writing about eating what she grows for over five. Her articles have served as the inspiration for everything from family activities to half-a-dozen junior high science fair projects and as research for a masters candidate's thesis. When not playing in her gardens or kitchen, she's working on her cookbook or coaching judo at a local college.

About this Author

GardenGuides.com