Last year was wonderful. We didn’t have a summer as such, except in March, and that was just at the wrong time. My apple trees flowered early in a bit of a panic, there were only a few bees about and, as a consequence, I had very few apples. This gave me a breathing space which I appreciated. But this year I’m back to normal. I’m not complaining; I’m just running out of ideas.
There were three old apple trees in this garden and, when I moved in, I thought they’d be too elderly to present much of a problem. Wrong.
One doesn’t do much. Another is a Cox, and the apples it produces are prolific but beloved of the birds. The third is un-be-lievable. We’re talking carrier bags. So far this year I’ve given away nine, and I’m not talking half-full bags either. I’m talking bags so full the handles give way. And we’re picky when we’re picking – anything chewed, nibbled or pecked gets thrown over the wall into the wildy bit next door. Then I’m faced with the problem of what to do with what remains. A lot get given away, though my picking companion has his own problem and I can’t
offload give him any. Chutney gets made, of course, and crumbles. And I’m also very fond of an apple cake which always goes down well – even though it only uses about three…
The original recipe has been much adapted. It came from a Good Housekeeping book on wholefood cookery that was published in 1980, on appropriately brown and gritty paper. Mind you, the attitudes in the text are rather 1950s – readers are warned, for instance, not to have too many spicy foods like curries because they ‘may overload the system’, and are told that business lunches can be a problem ‘for the husband who eats so much at lunchtime that he cannot face the large meal his wife has cooked in the evening’. Grr. Sisters may be doing it for themselves, but not men – or not in the 1980 world of Good Housekeeping, evidently. Also some of the recipes are, quite frankly, disgusting. What on earth would possess anyone to make ‘breakfast in a glass’ with coffee substitute (?) boiled up with milk, strained through a sieve, then blended with – wait for it – an egg and a teaspoon of honey. NOOO.
However it is worth persisting, if only for the baking section. Perhaps not surprisingly, given that it’s a Good Housekeeping book, this is rather better and I have used a lot of the recipes in it. They are fine once I’ve worked on them a bit to make them less heavily penitential; there seems to have been some feeling that the proverbial reputation of wholefoods had to be maintained by producing worthy, weighty slabs of brownness. I find this odd, as by the 1980s even Cranks had begun to lighten up a little, both literally and metaphorically. So here is my heavily adapted, very heavily adapted – perhaps I should say ‘inspired by’ instead – contribution to coping with the apple glut, part two.
Apple and walnut cake
175g butter, soft
175g unrefined sugar
3 medium eggs
175g self-raising wholemeal flour (or 100g wholemeal and 75g white)
100g chopped walnuts
half a tsp ground cinnamon
350g cooking apples (about three medium ones)
25g Demerara sugar
Preheat the oven to gas 4 / 180 degrees C (conventional; 160 fan). Grease and line a round 18 cm loose-bottomed cake tin.
Cream together the butter and sugar in a medium bowl. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time, and add a little flour with each one to help prevent curdling. Gently fold in the rest of the flour, half (50g) the chopped walnuts, all the sultanas and the cinnamon. Peel the apples and grate them straight into the bowl, folding them into the mixture one by one. It is easier to grate them if you leave the core intact for holding, then discard it afterwards. Spoon the mixture into the tin and level it out.
Put the rest of the walnuts on a chopping board and chop them even more finely using a large knife. Mix them with the Demerara sugar and sprinkle this crunchy topping evenly over the surface of the cake. Bake it in the oven for 90 minutes, then test to see whether it is cooked – a skewer or, if you’re me, a fine knitting needle, should come out clean – and you may find you need to leave it in the oven for another 10 minutes or so. When it’s done, take it out of the oven, put it on a wire rack and allow it to cool in the tin for at least 15 minutes before very carefully removing the tin – don’t turn the cake upside down to do this as some of the topping will fall off. Allow it to cool completely before serving.
A few tips to avoid unfortunate consequences (don’t ask me how I know):
1. This cake will not rise overmuch because of the topping, so do not be alarmed if the tin appears rather fuller than you might expect. Do not be tempted to transfer it to a larger tin. One word. Biscuit.
2. Even if you have another 67,945 carrier bags full of apples, do not be tempted to add more to the mix to see if it works. Err on the side of caution. Unless you like a sort of apply, slimy, slithery bread pudding, that is. I hate bread pudding. Any kind.
3. The cake mixture can seem a little heavier than you might expect. Do not be tempted to add liquid. See reason 2 above. The apples provide enough juice. Really.
4. Using dessert apples makes a sweeter cake, but it’s not supposed to be intensely sweet; it should have a slight tartness to it which is refreshing (according to some of the village garden club who have just tested one I made for an open garden event). Also eating apples can be too juicy. See reason 2 yet again.
5. I use the coarse half of a flat grater and rest it over the bowl; it works fine. The apples shouldn’t be too finely grated and if you do them in a food processor they can either go to mush or go brown, or both. Using the old-fashioned method doesn’t take long, works much better and doesn’t involve so much swearing (or washing up, come to that, for those of us who can’t have dishwashers because we rely on 200-year-old soakaways).
6. Depending on your oven, you might need to cover the cake with foil towards the end of cooking to prevent the top from catching. Only open the door to do this in the last 20 mins or so. Alternatively, cook the cake towards the bottom of the oven rather than in the middle. Especially if the unfamiliar oven you are using has an overhead element that cannot be turned off, unless you want a cold oven. Not a good experience.
All right, that used three apples. Hmm: