This is the only thing I ever ate of my Austrian grandmother’s cooking. Every other Sunday we spent the afternoon at Grandma’s house. At 3 in the afternoon the dining room table, permanently covered with a padded plastic tablecloth, would be set with coffee and Grandma’s apple cake. Then would commence the perpetual discussion of the price of chicken. This was a group of aunts and uncles that put price before any other culinary consideration. Their primary goal in life was to eat as inexpensively as possible. This super-frugality was created from past hardships but in the booming 1960’s, with the nation’s attention focused on Southeast Asia, the austerity was more of a lifestyle rather than a necessity.
At 12 years old, I’d spend the entire visit gazing dreamily at my cousin Tommy, while nibbling on my piece of cake and wondering if it truly was against the law to marry your cousin. At 13, I was rolling my eyes at everyone, sulking in the corner, and refusing any offer of cake. It was all so bourgeois . At 14 I got out of there, off to New York City to pursue my dream of becoming a prima ballerina. I stayed 25 years in the rotten apple, a die-hard New Yorker of the struggling artist set, reveling in the grittiness of the crack reeling city. And now tonight, I’ll serve my dad a slice of a cake that Grandma made every other Sunday for as long as I could remember.
The 70’s would continue the downward spiral of food mediocrity, with fresh saying bye-bye and herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides becoming de rigeur until the Yuppie arugula explosion of the early 90’s. No amount of hippie or Silent Spring movement could stop the destructive progression, leaving birds, bees, and the deep mid-west topsoil in it’s wake. Now we old hippies and our Lost Generation kids have become Foodies in this 21st century. Wow. Being around now in the food movement is even better than the feminist one, and it’s much more socially acceptable, especially with a glass of Prosecco.
I still had a few tablespoons of the Green Gage plum jam with vanilla bean and crystallized ginger from the summer preserving. This made a wonderful tart glaze on the top of the cake. Apricot jam or marmalade can be substituted. This almost Proustian indulgence has brought about some taste memories and this apple cake is as good as a madeleine any day.
Heirloom varieties of apples, such as Macoun, Empire, and Mutsu are at the farmers’ markets now, some produced with a minimum of spraying. I’m always conflicted about consuming non-organic produce. However, there are some crops that are incomparable when purchased locally, such as corn, peaches, apples, plums, and nectarines. They are impossible to grow organically on a commercial basis here in the Northeast. All guilt falls away as I bite into a crisp Jonagold, unsurpassed by any transcontinental supermarket offerings.
- 4 large apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 cup flour + 2 tablespoons for the cake pan
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup butter + 1 tablespoon for the cake pan, softened
- 2 eggs
- 4 tablespoons milk, cream, buttermilk, yogurt, or soymilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 tablespoons Green Gage plum or apricot jam, melted
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Butter and flour an 8-inch spring form cake pan.
- In a medium mixing bowl, place the apples, ¼ cup sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice, stirring to coat the apples thoroughly.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, stirring together until combined. Set aside.
- In a larger mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer, beat the butter and ¾ cup sugar together, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, milk, and vanilla extract, and beat until combined. Add the flour/sugar mixture and beat until well combined.
- Pour into the prepared cake pan, smoothing the top to even out the batter. Layer the apple slices evenly over the top. Press very gently to settle them into the batter.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes, until golden brown on the edges and a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Cool on a baking rack. Best served at room temperature.
For Augusta Amreiter Ritz