Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fat’s Chance: If Not Now, When?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         There are those of us who never left. Loyal and devoted, we continued to eat our butter and bacon, and to bake with our lard, while others, let’s face it, not only denied themselves but probably harmed themselves by eating hydrogenated oils in the form of cheap margarine. I was fortunate to grow up with a father who refused to have the stuff in the house. He was an engineer who loved new technologies, except when it came to his food: that was taking science too far. So we had two forms of butter on the table, hard salted and soft unsalted, to satisfy our varied preferences when it came to the best way to eat a fresh Kaiser roll or bagel.

Like butter, pork fat has been out of favor for decades except in pockets of New England and the South. I’ve known people to react with disgust when I say that my pie crust or biscuits are made with lard, or that I fry my chicken or chiles rellenos in lard. A friend even once refused a freshly made glazed doughnut because it had been fried in lard. Insane, I know. Needless to say, I generally remain silent on the matter of using goose or duck fat to oven-brown my potatoes.

The tides are turning back, however. We now know (as my father always knew) that margarine is suspect. Butter is better for you than the margarine you grew up on. We know that pure lard is better than Crisco, and better yet than butter. We know that “fat-free” as a way of life may actually be life-threatening. People are talking about fat in a good way again, and we are even starting to celebrate its inimitable fatness. Last year the truly beautiful book, Pork & Sons, exalted all things pig; recently, another attractive paean has been published, called, simply, Fat. It’s subtitle, An Appreciation of A Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes, aims to change the misguided mind on the subject.

This all makes us happy in New England, where salt pork remains a fat of choice for traditional cooking, and lard retains the blue ribbon for the flakiest crust (see photo above left…). There’s nothing like the holidays to get people to digress from their habits—some of them, such as wholesale denial of the pleasures of good eating, irrational if not downright self-destructive. Christmas is fat’s chance; take advantage of it.

LCM Pork Cake

Pork cake is a very old New England favorite. It may look a bit like fruitcake, but it is considerably different and, I think, much better. The recipe lends itself to adjustment according to personal taste or on-hand convenience. You can use glacé fruit in this cake, especially citron or citrus peels, dates or apricots (very good), raisins (traditional), and other kinds of nuts (or none). Some more “modern” recipes contain eggs; mine, like most of the old ones, does not. Adjust spices too, to taste, as long as they are very fresh. Makes one loaf or 3 mini loafs.

½ cup currants
½ cup best-quality dried cherries (not from the supermarket)
2 T muscatel (or sherry or port)

1 lb fat-only salt pork, to obtain 1 cup (see Note)
1 cup boiling water or coffee

½ cup molasses
½ cup dark brown sugar
1 cup sugar

½ tea baking soda
1 tea ground cinnamon, preferably Vietnamese
½ tea freshly grated nutmeg
½ tea ground cardamom
¼ tea ground allspice
¼ tea ground cloves

Preheat oven to 300 F.

Put the currants and cherries into a small bowl with the muscatel and set aside.

Working carefully with a sharp, thin knife such as a slicer, and holding the salt pork horizontally on a board, remove the skin and discard. For safety, wash your hands and the knife frequently. If the fat is coated with salt, rinse it well and pat dry with paper towels. Put the pork fat into a food processor with the metal blade and process until it is well-ground and beginning to look creamy. Pack well into a 1-cup measure; use some of the leftover to grease a full-size bread pan or 3 mini bread pans, and freeze the rest.

Put the cup of fat into a large bowl and pour the boiling water over it; stir. When it is cool, stir in the molasses and the brown and white sugars. Sift 1 cup of the flour with the spices over the fruit and mix well. Sift the remaining flour and the baking soda into the fat-sugar mixture, then fold in the floured/seasoned fruit. Let it stand for an hour or so if you have the time.

Fill the pan(s) about ¾ full (do not overfill) and bake in the low oven, about 1 hour 15 minutes for the small pans, or 1 ½ hours for the large, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pans on a rack before turning out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         This is delicious as is, but can be iced with a simple butter glaze or buttercream if you like. It keeps, wrapped, very well.

Note: If you cannot find all-fat salt pork, buy a larger amount of regular salt pork and cut off the lean, reserving for another use. You may also be able to find salted fat back, now being made as a kind of substitute for all-fat salt pork, which is disappearing rapidly (traditionally, fatback is unsalted).

                                                                OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Molasses: Spice up the Holidays

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         New England is one of the probably two places in the country (the other being the South) where molasses is still used in everyday cooking and baking, not just for the occasional batch of gingerbread or cut-out holiday cookie. These, of course, are very good, and gingerbread with whipped cream and a thin chocolate sauce is a favorite winter dessert of mine. But New Englanders eat molasses, to borrow a phrase from Dickens, all the year ‘round, in baked beans, Indian pudding, a portfolio of steamed puddings (including, of course, plum pudding), Boston Brown Bread, date nut bread, buckwheat pancakes, and loads of other traditional dishes.

It’s interesting that molasses has remained so popular despite its high price and the wide availability of a local sweetener, maple syrup (now expensive, but until recent decades quite cheap) and, of course, the ubiquitous white cane sugar (now cheap, but once expensive). Price is not the point, but rather, flavor. Sugar is just sweet; maple syrup is, well, maple-y and a tad delicate, requiring quite a lot to make an impression. Molasses is intense, robust, viscous like honey, and has an open-hearted affinity for spice. It works where other sweeteners don’t, and has great cross-over applicability in hearty, savory dishes such as stews and chilis, and as a color-enhancing glaze for meat and poultry. It is also a fine addition to cocktails and breads (including the famous Anadama). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Like brown sugar and maple syrup, molasses is available in grades of flavor or refinement. Generally available are two, a light and a dark (sometimes called robust  or full-flavor); a third and the most intense and bitter-edged of all, blackstrap, is more difficult to find. If you are going to have only one on hand—although molasses keeps well without loss of flavor in your pantry—it should probably be the dark. A by-product of sugar-making—each grade is produced from stages of boiling, similar to the process by which grades of maple syrup are produced—molasses may be either sulphured or unsulphured, depending on the age of the sugarcane used in manufacture. For best quality and and flavor, look for unsulphured molasses.

Molasses has the added benefits of being a good source of calcium and minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, and copper. It is high in iron (blackstrap being the highest), second only to beef liver, and does not lose any nutrient power in baking. Cookie? Calf’s liver? You choose. My choice is clear.

Soft Molasses-Spice Cookie-Jar Cookies

This is an adaptation of a recipe I cut out of a magazine 25 years ago or so; I long since transferred it to a card, and don't remember where it originally came from (it's not from the vintage Brer Rabbit cookbook shown in the picture). I have fooled around with it a bit, adding the vinegar and cardamom, increasing the ginger, and, I seem to recall, increasing the egg. Adjust the spice to your own taste; these are strongly spiced, according to mine. Be sure your spices are very fresh. These are excellent out of the oven, and are even better after a little aging in the freezer. Makes about 4 dozen.

½ cup unsalted butter, softened  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup dark molasses
2 tea cider vinegar
½ tea salt
2 large eggs
2 ½ tea baking soda
1 T ginger
1 ½ tea cloves
1 ½ tea cinnamon
½ tea cardamom
4 cups a-p flour

1/3 cup additional sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream the butter thoroughly, then add the sugar, beating til fluffy, followed by the molasses and vinegar and salt. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each. Mix the spices in on low. Sift the flour into the dough about a cup at a time, folding in at low speed and stopping when all has been incorporated.

Put the additional 1/3 cup sugar on a sheet of wax paper. With sugared hands, form the dough into balls of about 1 ½” in diameter, and roll them in the sugar. Place them about 2” apart on baking sheets, about 12 to a sheet, and bake for 13-14 minutes, until the cookies have spread into perfect rounds and the tops are nicely cracked. Do not overbake. While the first batch is baking, you can form the second batch, but do not roll them in sugar until you are ready to put them in the oven, or the sugar will melt and the cookies will not get their nicely cracked top.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Giving Thanks for the Harvest


Little Compton Mornings 2007Thanksgiving is extra-special to Rhode Islanders, especially those who live East of Narragansett Bay. Rhode Island, along with southeastern Massachusetts, was home to the Wampanoag, the native people without whom the Pilgrims would not have survived their first winter or, indeed, had a harvest the following year to celebrate at all. The leader of the Wampanoag, Massasoit, was born near Bristol, RI, the seat and summer residence of Massasoit and likely the place from which he and other Wampanoag walked for two days to join the Pilgrims for a harvest dinner in the fall of 1621. That first harvest was the metaphorical seed of all other harvests since enjoyed by every one of us migrants to this country.

Little is known about what was eaten at that dinner, but we do have one first-person account, that of Edward Winslow:

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours ; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others.”

In addition to fowl and venison, they probably enjoyed fish and shellfish, and perhaps some thick jonnycakes, again thanks to the Wampanoag and the famous Rhode Island whitecap flint corn. We can deduce this from the writing of the Pilgrim settlement’s governor, William Bradford:

“They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strenght, and had all things in good plenty; fFor as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, & bass, & other fish, of which yey tooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All ye somer ther was no want.  And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees).  And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, &c. Besids, they had about a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corn to yt proportion.”

As for vegetables, historians believe the first Thanksgiving included squash, pumpkins, onions, carrots, and cabbage, but not yet another great Rhode Island crop, potatoes. Still, not much has changed at the Thanksgiving table these 387 years later, and we are eating many of the same things. But a look back at the growing season shows a harvest that the Pilgrims, and even the wise Massasoit, could scarcely have imagined. Happy Thanksgiving.


I'll be away for the holiday, and will return to LC Mornings in two weeks.

Rhubarb 004   Strawberries 006  20070720_Mixed Eggs_000453 copy 

   Chiles and Strawberries 023     Carrots, garlic, etc 011Asparagus and Mint 001

      Carrots, garlic, etc 012   Carrots, garlic, etc 003     Carrots, garlic, etc 008

Currants 005   Carrots, garlic, etc 013   sour cherries baskets 

Sour cherries and other 2008 018   Sour cherries and other 2008 015   Sour cherries and other 2008 020 

                                              Potatoes and clafouti 011


 Potatoes and clafouti 007   Peaches and Nashville 007   Pole beans and Winesaps 010

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dried Apricots: Fraternal Twins


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         It’s not quite time to begin the holiday baking, but it probably is time to order the high-quality dried and glacé fruits and fresh nuts you will need for it. Faced with a need to bring some accompaniments for an early (this week) Thanksgiving pot luck at my university, I was caught short of time for an online order to get to me without paying a small fortune for overnight delivery that far exceeded the somewhat smaller fortune for the fruit itself, and forced into the supermarket to see what I could find. The lesson for the day is: if you do not live near a reliable purveyor of beautiful fruit and nuts, order early from a prime supplier. And, if you must use commercially packaged fruit—which, by the way, you will pay nearly as much and sometimes more for while receiving smaller, lower quality fruit—use it in preparations where the quality differential in the fruit will not make a huge difference in the quality of the product.

Dried apricots offer our case in point. There are two kinds, the same but different: those generally called Turkish and those generally called California; I say “generally” because commercial producers like Sun-Maid® make Turkish-style apricots, but they are really from California, and they label them “Mediterranean.” The Turkish apricot is a sunny, plump, moist and sweet fruit with a true soft apricot color. The best are, yes, from Turkey. Turkish apricots are whole apricots, with the pit carefully slipped out. The California apricot is an apricot half. It is a deep orange color, drier, chewier, with a very tart edge to its subtle sweetness; DelMonte® used to pack very good ones, but alas, no more. Both Turkish and California apricots are excellent, but different, eaten out of hand—the California is intense, while the Turkish is mild—and aficionados tend to divide into camps. Both are high in fiber and concentrated nutrients, especially vitamin A, iron, and beta-carotene. Both have been treated with sulfur dioxide to preserve their color, some minimally, some more so (unsulfured fruit, largely brown in color, is available). Both are the perfect holiday-time fruit. They are a pretty color, luxurious, delicious, and decorative—they look great on a platter, and the glacéd varieties, sort of giant Turkish-style apricots that have been soaked in syrup and of which those from Australia set the standard, are downright beautiful.

But the two types of dried apricot have pros and cons when it comes to cooking and baking. This is, admittedly, a matter of preference or opinion. Here are mine: For preparations where you want a soft or plump texture, or sweet contrast, I like Turkish apricots. I would use Turkish, for example, to stuff with cheese or nuts; for sauces or chutneys to serve with meat and poultry; and in dishes like pilafs, risottos, and salads. When you want a true, concentrated apricot flavor—where taste is more important than texture—I like California apricots, usually pureed and sometimes slightly sweetened. California apricots make a great pie, and a wonderful cake filling or layer of bar cookies. At first glance it might seem that California apricots are the hands-down choice for baking, while Turkish tip the balance for cooking—and perhaps that’s a general rule of thumb. But I would use Turkish in a fruit bread or cake, for example. So you decide. And another rule of thumb: for more lightly cooked or uncooked preparations, it’s worth seeking out premium quality fruit; for preparations that undergo long cooking or baking, supermarket varieties are acceptable.

Favorite Apricot Chutney

I have made this sweet-savory-spicy chutney for the holidays every year for more than 25 years, and try to make it often enough to have it available year-round: it is that good, and that versatile. This can be made with fruit from the supermarket, with minimal difference in the final product; just make sure it is freshly purchased, and that your spices are fresh. Quantities are flexible, so don’t feel like you have to measure too precisely. Makes 4-5 cups.Apricot chutney recipe card

1 lb dried Turkish apricots, cut into quarters with scissor
¾ cup dried currants
1 ½ cup chopped sweet onion (about 1 medium-large)
3 T peeled, minced fresh ginger root
3 large cloves peeled fresh garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
1 ½ cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 ½ tea salt
1 ½ tea ground cinnamon
1 ½ tea ground coriander
¾ tea crushed red pepper

1 ½-2 cups red wine vinegar

Combine the fruit and all other dry ingredients in a 3-4-qt saucepan or chef’s pan. Ideally, let them dry-marinate for a few hours if you have time; if not, just proceed. Pour the vinegar over the mixture and stir until everything is moistened; if you have only a 12-oz bottle of vinegar handy, that will do. Bring to a boil, stirring, then reduce the heat to an active simmer. Cook, stirring, for about 45 minutes, or until your wooden spoon pulled through the chutney makes a path, and the chutney is golden brown and somewhat thick. Be careful not to overcook, especially if you have used the smaller amount of vinegar. Put into clean sterilized jars or, if serving soon, into a pretty glass bowl. Refrigerate when cool.

This is excellent with turkey, poultry, or ham at dinner, or on just about any kind of sandwich, including grilled cheese. It makes a great quick appetizer served over goat or cream cheese, or with sliced cheddar. It is a perfect accompaniment to Indian meals and peps up leftover rice.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Elegy—and Ode—to the Lost Muffin


Not one
in this or any other
makes a muffin
like your grandmother:
ready for butter
and small

Not one
in this or any other
fine town
has yet tasted
a gem that's not cake:
sugared for toothache
and huge

But two
in this or any other
let us forsee
cake muffins undone:
and scarcity.
Forsake the bakery
for home


LCM Jonnycake Muffins

Plain, crumbly, ready for butter. . .and small. One of my favorite gems, with a crisp exterior and softer, crumbly interior. Makes 8.

½ cup RI white cap flint cornmeal
1 cup a-p flour
3 tea baking powder
¼ tea salt
2 large eggs
¼ cup pure maple syrup, grade B or lower
1/3 cup milk
6 T butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Grease 8 cups of a standard muffin tin, starting at the center. Place paper muffin papers in the remaining cups.

Put the cornmeal in a bowl, and sift in the flour, salt, and baking powder. Into a 2- or 3-cup measuring cup, measure the maple syrup and milk; add the eggs and the melted butter, and beat well. Pour over the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Divide the batter evenly into the 8 greased cups of the muffin tin, and bake for about 22 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool about 5 minutes in the pan before turning out and serving with butter or butter with a little maple syrup beaten in. In the unlikely event there are any left over, these freeze and reheat beautifully with 25 seconds in the microwave.



Sunday, November 2, 2008

Relishing Fall: Late Cukes and Peppers


There is no one, and I mean no one, who is more sorry than I to see summer, and the growing season, fade away. I am a warm weather, beachy kind of girl. While the worst childhood memories of most people I know involve some sort of adolescent embarrassment, mine is of being bundled into a snowsuit and turned out into a yard three-feet deep in snow. I remember standing stock still, chest-high and crying in the cold white torture chamber, while my siblings, all of whom had the measles, pressed their faces jealously up against the window pane. My mother considered me ungrateful: after all, I seemed to be immune to childhood diseases, and could go outside while my sisters and brother were trapped indoors. Ah, but we are not all alike, are we? Winter, for me, was and still is something to survive, a time of counting days (and months) until the snow cover is gone and crocuses appear again.

But even though fall is to me a warning to steel myself for cold toes, ears screaming with pain from the wind, and that ultimate dread, stingy daylight and long, dark nights, I have to admit it contains some remarkable reminders, and harbingers, of exactly what winter is to me: survival. Fall is, counter-intuitively, full of surprising life. Despite quite cold nights and shorter days, the ground keeps pouring forth its amazing gifts: bigger, rounder, more bumptious, as if code for “put me by because this can’t last forever, you know.” So of course, we do. Because alas, we know.

Cool weather crops like cucumbers have grown, in many cases, to the size of salamis, but something about the weather has allowed the plants to continue to bloom with fetching new offspring while their ancestors continue to grow fat and undesirable. I found some baby cukes, many literally gherkin-size, at the farmers market. Perhaps also because of the warm, sunny days, the red peppers are beautiful too. Feeling lazy, I put them together in a quick relish, a little different from the red pepper relish I posted here late last summer.

Lazy Fall Day Relish

Although I usually chop by hand for relish, I simply threw everything into the food processor and went for a finer texture than usual. This makes it suitable not only for hot dogs, sausages, and burgers, but also as a spread for ham and grilled chicken sandwiches, or for a crostini-based appetizer. Makes about 3 cups.

5 small cucumbers, about 4” long and 1” thick (about 10 oz)        OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
2 large very red peppers (about 18 oz)
1 medium large sweet onion (about 10 oz)
½ cup white balsamic vinegar or cider vinegar
¾ cup white sugar
¼ cup dark brown sugar
¾ tea kosher salt
1 small Serrano pepper, seeded
¼ tea celery seed
½ tea dried orange peel 

Trim the unpeeled cukes and cut them into thirds. Core the peppers and cut each into about eight pieces. Cut the onion into quarters. Put all the vegetables and the vinegar into a food processor with the metal blade and pulse repeatedly, about 30 times, until finely chopped but not mushy.

Transfer the chopped vegetables and vinegar to a 3-qt saucepan, preferably a chef’s pan with sloped sides. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat somewhat so it is still boiling but not wildly, and cook for about 30-40 minutes, until it is lightly gelled and excess liquid has evaporated.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Poblanos: Chile Charmer


There are absolutely gorgeous poblano peppers available now: just the right size—about 4” long and 3” wide at the shoulder--, perfectly conical or heart-shaped, glossy dark green-black. You might not go out looking for them, but they will charm their way into your shopping basket anyway, they are just so fresh-faced and spotless.

And you know that their beauty is more than skin-deep; there’s real substance there. Poblanos are meaty and rich-tasting with a mild-to-moderate flavorful, never raw or grating, heat. They have a medium-thick wall that holds up well when grilled, stuffed, or fried, but that allows them to be at home in gentler preparations, like stir-fries and soups. While I love the small, hotter Serrano for seasoning, the poblano is my idea of the perfect all-around chile pepper. It also is the source of my favorite (and again, the most versatile) dried chile, the ancho, an essential for earthy sauces.

SM Poblanos copy To prepare poblanos, broil or grill them, taking care that they don’t burn, until the skins are lightly charred and blistered all over; I use my toaster oven when doing just a few. Put them in a plastic bag or towel to steam for a few minutes, then pull and rub off the skins, and gently pull out the stem and attached seeds; it can be helpful to do this under running water, and to let the water flow into the chile to remove any escaped seeds. Pat hem dry or set them to drain between paper towels, and then they are ready to use. One of my favorite supper dishes is chiles rellenos, so I tend to make them over and over—and will share my recipe soon. I have already told you about the divine chile-relleno burger. And I often make corn soup with rajas de chile poblano (strips of poblano). But in a pinch I just lightly dust them with cornmeal, fill them with a little cheese, and sauté and serve them with an uncooked fruity and creamy sauce that sets off the heat. It makes a quick appetizer.

Poblanos with Pineapple Cream

Use white or yellow cornmeal; I use my jonnycake meal. Serves 4.

4 medium perfect poblano chiles, skins and seeds removed
2 oz firm mozzarella or soft goat cheese 
1 tea water
1 tea corn oil
pinch salt
2 T unsalted butter
1 T corn oil

¼ buttermilk
¼ cup light cream or half and half
½ cup fresh ripe pineapple

finely chopped cilantro or parsley

Divide the cheese into 4 portions and insert gently into the chiles. Spread a cup or so of cornmeal on a board or sheet of wax paper. In a shallow dish, beat the egg with the water, oil, and salt. Dip the chiles into the egg mixture, turning, and then coat them with cornmeal. Set aside to dry a little.

In a blender, combine the pineapple, buttermilk, and cream or half and half. Puree till smooth; strain if you wish (I don’t), and refrigerate until needed.

Melt the butter with the oil in a 9” sauté pan. Cook the chiles two at a time, turning once, over medium-high heat until golden and the cheese has melted (keep the first batch warm in a 250 F oven while you cook the second). Serve hot with a little of the cold sauce and some chopped fresh coriander or parsley.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Eureka: The Elusive Stayman Winesap


Late last summer in my post about apples, I listed the Stayman Winesap as one of my grandmother’s favorite cooking apples, and how unusual it is to find it these days. I am happy to report (mostly for myself, as it doesn’t much help you) that I am presently, and of course fleetingly as with all earthly gifts, in possession of this wonderful apple. My grandmother loved it for pie, as I do as well. It is a late season, October apple, so look around for them and you too may find them, if you are lucky. They are not grown commercially much anymore in these days of the perfect-looking (if tasteless or over-sweet) apple, as the skin is prone to cracking if conditions are not right. But mine, locally grown, look beautiful.

The Stayman Winesap is a cross between two distinct apples, a Stayman and a Winsap, that appeared by chance in the late 1860s; by 1895 it had been introduced by Stark Brothers, the famous seed nurserymen, and from a timing standpoint it would have been in its heyday when my grandmother was a young woman. It is crisp but not dry like some crisp apples; tart and spicy; and yes, has a winey, or sort of honey-nectary, taste. This makes Stayman Winesaps good for eating as well as pies and other desserts, and their texture  and color--a sort of yellowy gold--also suits them nicely for applesauce.

My grandmother was one of those women who baked as regularly and naturally as she breathed; it was part of the continuous motion of her presence in the kitchen, seamless with the washing of dishes, the cleaning out of the refrigerator or straightening of the pantry shelves, the taking out of the trash. So routine and low-key were her efforts that it was sometimes a shock when, though you’d been sitting right there talking with her when you got home from school, some favorite treat appeared on the counter before you like a conjurer’s trick. This might be an apple, chocolate cream, or lemon sponge pie, or her inimitable yeast coffeecake. But more often than not it was this Dutch Apple Cake, which, like any good magician, she could produce in the blink of an eye.

Grandma’s Dutch Apple Cake

I have never seen this cake anywhere but home. It is plain and delicious, and was a family weeknight standby and favorite. It is best served the day it is made; in our large family, we rarely had leftovers, even though my grandmother made this in a big rectangular pan twice the size of here. Serve it alone, or with a little heavy cream or ice cream. Serves 6-9.

10 oz. butter
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
¼ tea pure vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups a-p flour
¼ tea salt
1 ½ tea baking powder
3-4 medium Stayman Winesaps or other tart, firm apple such as CorlandsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

1/3-1/2 cup sugar
½ teaspoon fresh ground cinnamon
2 T butter

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9” square pan. Mix the 1/3 cup sugar with the cinnamon and set aside.

In a 2-3 qt saucepan, melt the 10 oz of butter and remove from the heat to cool slightly. Stir in the sugar, and then the eggs, until combined and viscous; stir in the vanilla. Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder into the pan and stir well to form a batter. Pour into the prepared pan.

Peel and core the apples, and slice about ½” thick. Press the slices into the batter, curved side down, in neat rows (truth be told, I don't know why I did not put a fourth row in--I had the apples all cut--as the apples should be close together, and it is all right for them to intersect somewhat). Sprinkle generously with the cinnamon-sugar, dot with the remaining butter, and bake for about 35-40 minutes. Let cool on a rack at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares. I happen to like the slightly chewy end piece.