Updated: Nov 19, 2020
By Carrie Dubay
This weekend I was feeling about as close to a frontier woman as I think ever will. Those of you who know me can laugh heartily at this statement. Having grown up in a metropolitan city and spent many of my early adult years in New York City, I've always been firmly in the city vs. country girl camp.
But experiencing all the challenges of a pandemic with four children has really forced me to look at and appreciate the gifts of small-town life. In the last year, I have embraced more of what a gift Maine is to me and my family. And yesterday, the literal fruits of all that just exploded in front of me and I had to hit my knees in gratitude for God's blessings during this uncertain time. And it all came in the form of an apple cake!
Now I know that sounds funny, but cooking can be such a unifying experience for families. No matter your age everyone can participate, even if all some are doing is eating! In our case, the apples in the cake were picked on a brisk fall morning at a local orchard by every hand in our home. The eggs we used came from our quirky little hens (a pandemic decision that has turned out to be just the absolute best!) and the recipe was one of my mom's signature desserts that she always (and only) made in the fall when I was growing up.
As I watched my daughter and husband peel and chop the apples while my son cracked the eggs that had just been laid, I felt an enormous sense of peace in a home that has felt less than peaceful in the last year. I remembered and appreciated what a great day we had when we picked the apples. And the smells of the caramel frosting brought me back to my youth and connected me to my mom and dad, who I miss dearly and am unable to see in the current climate. That apple cake was such a gift. And when my stepson declared it to be the best he had ever eaten it was truly the icing on the cake!
We are heading into the holiday season, which is often already a difficult time for many. This year, we will all be feeling a bit different - it will be harder for some than others. I just want to offer the reminder that food can bring us together, even if we are physically apart. After experiencing such beautiful nostalgia this weekend, I know I'll be pulling out my mom and meme's stained recipe cards and baking and cooking a little piece of family for my home.
I'm sharing our family recipe below as a little gift to you.
Sandra's Fresh Apple Cake:
2 1/3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon each: cloves and nutmeg
4 cups chopped, peeled apples
1/2 cup soft shortening (I used one stick plus 1 T of butter)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (we left out because, kids!)
Caramel Frosting (below)
*Combine flour, sugar soda, salt and spices in large mixing bowl. Mix until well blended, 3-4 minutes. Add apples, shortening (or butter), nuts and eggs. Beat at medium speed until well blended. Pour into a greased and floured 9x13 pan. Bake in pre-heated 325 oven 45 minutes, or until cake springs back when touched. Cool completely and frost in pan.
1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
*Melt butter in small saucepan. Add brown sugar and salt. Stir over medium heat until sugar melts. Add milk and bring to a boil. Pour into mixing bowl and cool 10 minutes. Add confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Beat to spreading consistency, adding additional confectioners' sugar if necessary. Spread on fresh apple cake.