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.
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.