We have eight apple trees. They were all here when we came so I have no idea what most of them are. In the kitchen garden there are two dwarf trees which are always laden with small eaters which ripen late towards the end of October. Then there are four older trees. Two of them have very little fruit but they provide shelter for the chickens and I can't bring myself to get rid of them. Two of them didn't fruit much when we first came here five years ago but have responded to pruning by becoming quite prolific. The fruit is pale yellow and of a good size but too sharp to be a dessert apple. Some of the fruit is misshapen or blotched with scab but the blossom in spring is so glorious I would forgive the trees anything.
In the field there are two more: a battered and bent tree which I was going to get rid of but which I have instead brought into the corner of the orchard and a huge and beautiful Howgate Wonder. This spreads its skirts wide and produces more fruit on its own than all the other trees put together. The apples are huge, the size of a baby's head. When they are first picked they are green streaked with dark red. We pick them in wheelbarrowsful. They keep wondrously well hanging in plastic bags in the rafters in the workshop with little care except being taken down from time to time to check that none has begun to rot. From October to Christmas they are definitely cookers but by late winter the skins have turned yellow blushed with a rosy red and the fruit is sweet enough to eat straight from the hand.
It is quite impossible to use them all. Every year we give a lot away to friends and colleagues and family. Every year some go into chutneys and relishes. I also make apple jellies by the ton: sweet ones with cinnamon or ginger to eat on buttered toast; savoury ones with sage, mint or rosemary to use in cooking or to have with meat. Most of the puddings we eat here over the winter have to include the compulsory apples. I could make apple crumble in my sleep, likewise apple pie, apple charlotte and a chocolate apple betty recipe by Nigel Slater brought into the house by my daughters and now a firm favourite.
But my favourite apple recipe of all is a Somerset apple cake. It comes from a book called Farmhouse Kitchen first published in 1975 to go with a Yorkshire Television series. I bought the book in a jumble sale at school when my children were small for 25 pence. It is the source of a lot of my baking staples: cheese scones and fruit cakes, teabreads and pastries. It has become one of those recipe books that fall open at the most used pages, the paper spattered with years of flying cake mixture. I had never seen another copy until last year, mooching around a local village show with my daughter on a sunny August day, and there it was on the second hand book stall. She fell on it with cries of delight and bore it away to her then London flat where its recipes for mutton pies and rabbit paste must have sat oddly alongside Nigella and Diana Henry. I do hope she has used it. I must ask her.
So here is the recipe for Somerset apple cake. It is tremendously easy and totally yummy. In exchange I would love to have any apple based recipes that you love if you would share them. There are still fourteen plastic bags full of apples hanging in the workshop roof!
The recipe will have to come in pounds and ounces, just as written in the book. I am trying to move over to baking in metric but there are some things where I don't even try and this is one of them.
3 oz butter
6 oz sugar
grated rind of one orange
8 oz self raising flour
1 lb of cooking apples, peeled, cored and cubed (you don't need to be exact about this. I usually use 3 whoppers or 4 smaller ones). Squeeze a bit of lemon juice on them if you have it to stop them going brown.
2 eggs, beaten
a little milk
about 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
- Grease and line a 9 inch cake tin. I use a loose bottomed one or a spring form which makes it easier to get the cake out.
- Cream together the butter, sugar and orange rind. I use a hand held mixer for this. If you do the creaming by hand make sure the butter is quite soft or it will take you forever.
- Put the eggs in the bowl with the creamed butter and sugar.
- Add the flour and apples alternately, mixing in well. If the mixture is too dry add a little milk, a spoonful at a time until the mixture goes easily together. You shouldn't need more than two tablespoons of milk.
- Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth it down so that the top is fairly flat. If the apples stick out a long way, press them down into the mixture a bit.
- Sprinkle the top of the cake with the granulated sugar and cook at 350 degrees F, 180ish C, Gas Mark 4 for 40 to 50 minutes until the top is golden brown and the cake is firm to the touch. It should just be beginning to come away ever so slightly from the side of the tin.
- Leave it to cool in the tin.
- You can serve it warm as a pudding with cream or cold as a cake.