Growing up, we had three trees that were the focal points of our front yard. The stately oak with the forked trunk was in one corner. One of the “little ones” would always be behind it in a game of hide and seek. Later, we’d pose in front of it in our prom dresses. The large pine in the other corner was fun to crawl under when we still could. A bed of pine needles always provides cool refuge from the hot sun.
The oak eventually got too tall and the thought of it falling on the house in a bad storm trumped sentiment. The pine too was chopped down long ago. But it was our sprawling apple tree at the end of the sidewalk that I really hated to see go. That was one of our climbing trees. We’d scramble up it, swing from the crab tree branch and in one memorable sister spat, the second youngest — one of the “little ones” — planted herself on an upper branch daring the oldest — one of the “big ones” — to come get her. Or perhaps it was our mother she was tormenting. Or maybe it was just a fit for fit’s sake. Childhood memories are a bit fuzzy. I do remember she’d made a grand escape out the bedroom window. Well, it was on the first floor, but still seemed dramatic at the time.
Each fall we’d pick up ripe apples off the ground and try to save them from the driveway before they were smashed by dad’s car. Mom would make apple crisps, always better with a slice of cheddar, baked apples or apple cake.
This isn’t her recipe, but my best approximation. She gave hers to me, but it just served too many. I don’t have six little girls in the house, just a husband and two dogs.
Spiced apple cake
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- pinch of ground cloves
- 3/4 cup brown sugar (see note)
- 1/2 cup butter (1 stick butter)
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 cup buttermilk (see note)
- 3 cups apples, peeled, cored, chopped
- 3/4 cup pecans, chopped
- 1 tsp lemon or orange zest
Grease a small cake pan or four 12-ounce ramekins. In a large bowl, stir together flours, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a stand mixer, cream sugar and butter. Add one egg at a time and beat until incorporated. Alternately add buttermilk and dry ingredients in batches. Turn off mixer and stir in apples, pecans, zest and vanilla. Pour batter into prepared pan(s) and bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour. The smaller cakes may bake faster.
Notes: If you don’t have buttermilk, you can put a half tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar in your measuring cup and fill it the rest of the way to the one-half cup mark with regular milk. Let stand for five minutes before using. I tend to cut sugar in recipes, because Greg doesn’t like super sweet desserts. Feel free to increase the brown sugar to one cup if desired.