Abandoned Orchards and Apple Cake

First, I want to say thank you to all the people who wrote me such nice comments and messages last week when my Grandmother passed away.  It really meant a lot, and I appreciate it very much. I definitely cooked us boxed macaroni and cheese for a few nights (in a row, yes) when I was still really sad and not into cooking at all, but I want to share this cake recipe with you, one of the first things I made when I motivated to get back into the kitchen.  It’s simple and light-tasting, in the same vein as the pumpkin pie recipe I just wrote about. I mentioned then, I am very much not down with baking things that make me feel like I need to go to the gym after I eat them.  This is not that kind of cake.  This is the kind of cake that, now that the days are starting to get really short, is really relaxing and quiet to bake early in the morning, before the sun is up, and then eat warm with a cup of tea while the sun rises.  It is a lovely way to start off the day.    A few weeks ago, I got permission to pick the apples from an abandoned apple orchard way at the top of the mountain that I live on.  It was planted long ago, before people were living at all of the different properties along my road, and no one has bothered picking the apples for ages.  I picked bushels and bushels of apples —  it was fantastic.  I know everyone’s all about canning applesauce right now, but I decided just to stash them in the pantry and see how many we could use fresh.  Apples keep for awhile if you have a cool, dark space, and if fruit is excited about preserving itself all on its own, I’m all about doing less work.

This cake recipe is from my mom, which she told me was from Cornell Orchards, one of the best spots for buying apples where I grew up.  I believe it was just a recipe they were handing out for free, for people to make with their apples, so it’s alright to share here even though I didn’t really come up with it.  If anyone knows differently, feel free to let me know…

For real: before you turn all your apples into apple butter, you should definitely make this.  Apple Cake, ever so slightly adapted from the recipe from Cornell Orchards’ recipe

Cook Time:  around an hour

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs. butter
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 2 medium eggs, slightly beaten (or, if you’re using jumbo eggs from the store, 1 egg)
  • 3 c. peeled, cored and diced apples
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 heaping tsp. of salt
  • 1 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the beaten eggs, and mix well.  Stir in the apples and walnuts.  Sift together the nutmeg, flour, salt and baking soda, and stir into the apple mixture.  (It will be thick and chunky, it’s okay).  Pour into a greased 8″ cast-iron skillet or a square baking dish.  Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out fairly clean. (There’s so many apple chunks it’s hard to get it perfectly clean).

Top with whipped cream if you want, but it’s wonderful on its own, both warm out of the oven and cold later on.

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Valencia Orange Marmalade with Apples and Cranberries

After the saga of the ruptured ligament in my ankle a few weeks ago, things are starting to get a little bit more back to normal.  I’ve been hobbling around, planting some kale, picking some flowers, and starting to clear some beds to make room for winter vegetables.  It’s been equal amounts of elation to be walking around and frustration that it’s still so slow.  I’m incredibly grateful to be back at it, though, and I realize that the injury I have is relatively minor compared to some of the health problems or accidents that some people have to deal with.

The gardens plugged along just fine without me for a few weeks, and are in that delicate transitional stage that November often brings.   Some of the flowers and greens are doing really well now that the temperatures have cooled down.  We haven’t had a hard frost yet, so the summer vegetables are still just holding on, their production slowed down to a crawl.  Slowly but surely, I’m clearing away all of the faded summer plants and getting my winter babies into the ground: purple brussels sprouts, several varieties of kale and chard, alcosa cabbages, asian greens, all kinds of garlic and onions, and much more.  I finally, finally got to make a batch of jam.  I went almost two weeks without canning anything at all, which is longer than I’ve gone in years.  This marmalade turned out so delicious, with the perfect blend of tart and sweet. I used a two day process; many marmalade-makers may have seem something similar to this before.  Normally you’d slice the oranges and combine them with water, letting them sit for 24 hours.  The natural pectin in the citrus fruit seeps out into the water and helps ensure a good gel without any added commercial pectin.  This time, instead of using plain water, I used some tart apple juice that I’d prepared for jelly and had stashed away earlier.  The pectin in the apple juice wasn’t absolutely necessary to get a good set, but it certainly helped, and the flavor of fresh apples combined with sweet valencia oranges and fresh cranberries was a fantastic combination. The sweetness of the apples completely rounded out the tartness of the citrus and cranberries to make a wonderfully mellow marmalade.  It will be delicious with our roast turkey on Thanksgiving, but we’ve already gone through two jars just doing the toast thing.

Valencia Orange Marmalade with Apples and Cranberries

Cook Time: well, it’s a two day process. It’s got several steps but it’s not actually all that difficult.

Makes: I think it made 7 half-pint jars, but we’ve already gone through a couple of them and I forgot to count before I wrote this post.

Ingredients:

  • 5 large organic valencia oranges, sliced for marmalade (see how I did lemons in this other post with pictures)
  • 6 c. cooked apple juice from tart apples, such as granny smiths or crabapples (see below for preparation instructions)
  • 3 1/2 c. fresh cranberries, rinsed
  • 6 c. sugar

To prepare the apple juice:*

Quarter 8 or 9 apples.  Remove the stems, any bruised spots or worm holes, and any attached leaves. (Leave the skin on and the cores in).  Place the apples in a medium sized, nonreactive pot and cover with water.  Cook for two hours.  Pour the apple and water mixture into a jelly bag or through cheesecloth to strain the juice.  I drained mine for four hours, but you can leave it draining for 12 or even 24 hours. Don’t press on the bag or the cheesecloth while it drains or the juice will be cloudy.  The juice will last for several weeks in the fridge (and several months in the freezer).

To Make The Marmalade, Day 1:

Slice the oranges for marmalade.  Make sure to sharpen a good knife and slice the peels as thinly as possible.  (If you don’t slice them very thinly, they won’t cook all the way through, and they’ll be gross chunks of bitter orange rinds).  Combine the prepared oranges with the prepared apple juice in a nonreactive container and leave it to sit overnight.

Day 2:

Bring boiling water canner to a boil.  Wash jars and lids in hot, soapy water.  Place your lids in a bowl and cover with boiling water from the canner.

Put the orange/apple juice mixture into a large, nonreactive pot.  Add the fresh cranberries and the sugar and bring to a boil over high heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the marmalade reaches about 220 degrees on a candy thermometer (or whichever your favorite gel test is- there are several.  I found this pdf using the power of google that has a very good explanation of different gel tests in case you’re unsure about it).

Ladle the hot marmalade into the clean jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Wipe rims clean and screw on lids.  Process for 10 minutes in the boiling water canner. 

Apple Brandy

the finished product

Last August, I bought a case of Gravenstein Apples for apple sauce, and I ended up with a few extras that didn’t fit in the pot.  Since we already had apple butter, apple pie filling, and apple sauce in the pantry, I started going through all my cookbooks to find something more interesting.

The answer was booze, of course.

I adapted a recipe from Put ’em Up, by Sherri Brooks Vinton.  Her recipe calls for soaking the apples in brandy for two weeks, making an apple-infused brandy.  When I made it, I added a lot more apples and then I left them in the brandy for six months, making more of an apple-liqeur, with very little taste of brandy left.  The flavor is amazing: light, refreshing, with a really bright burst of apple flavor, like apple juice.  I credit a lot of this to the delicious Gravenstein apples that I originally started with; they have just the right combination of sweet and tart, and a deliciously fresh flavor that later-season varieties of apples don’t often have.

Here’s my version of the recipe:

Apple Brandy

Ingredients:

1. Sterilize your jar and lid.  (Wash jar and lid in hot, soapy water, and then put the jar in the oven at 200 degrees for twenty minutes.  Put the lid in a small bowl and cover it with boiling water, then set aside.)

2. Put the cinnamon stick and sugar in the jar.

3. Rinse the apples, remove stems and cores, and chop into 1″ cubes.  Fill the jar up with as many apple cubes as you can fit (or as you have), leaving about an inch at the top of the jar.

4. Pour brandy into the jar, making sure to completely cover the apples and reach the top of the jar. You don’t want a weird floating apple to get exposed to the air and start doing bad things… like rotting.

5. I gave the jar a gentle shake every day for two weeks (just to make sure that the apples, sugar, and liquor are all staying mixed together).  After that, leave the jar in your pantry (or any other cool, dark spot) and give it a shake every month or so.  When the time is up, strain out the fruit and put the filtered brandy in a clean jar in the fridge, where it lasts up to a year.

apple brandy at the end of the six months, minus one glass...

This basic formula doesn’t end with apples, by the way.  You could put any fruit you want in some brandy or vodka…  the possibilities are endless.  I just started a new batch of blood-orange vodka that I can’t wait to try.  Clean jar + alcohol + fruit = cocktails!