Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Painter's Day without Electricity

Last Saturday was a quiet, rainy day. Rain meant no farmers’ market for me.

five trees c egbert

It was a perfect day to work on the unfinished painting waiting on the easel in my studio. When I saw our six tree orchard in the painting I wondered if our apples were ripe. From previous owners I knew the orchard had been a source of apples at least since the 1940’s when growing fruit and vegetables was a patriot effort. I walked to the orchard in the rain and came home with a basket filled with fragrant fresh apples from the old trees.

apple branch

What could be more fitting, then, than to look for a recipe in the 1930 edition of the Chicago Daily News Cook Book that had belonged to my mother-in-law?

cookbook 01

In the section titled Cakes and Cookies I found a recipe handwritten on grease stained piece of brown paper. Although, I had been planning to make an apple pie this very short recipe titled “Crumb Cake with Fruit” was intriguing. It read, “Use fingers to mix together one and a half cups flour, half a cup sugar, half a cup butter, and a pinch salt. Add spice. Save three-quarters cup of crumbs. Put rest into bottom of pan. Put sweetened fruit on top. Sprinkle rest of crumbs around. Bake until golden.”

Pretty simple. But how big a pan, how long should it bake and at what temperature? I would have to fill in the details. Here's how I did it.

Apple Crumb Cake

Although it was called a cake, with four cups of fruit it seemed more like a pie, so I decided to bake it at pie temperature - 425 degrees.

As suggested I used my fingers to combine the flour, sugar, salt, and butter until the mixture looked like coarse sand. For the spice, I added half a teaspoon of ground cardamom.

I reserved three-quarters of a cup of the crumbs and pressed the remainder into the bottom of a nine-inch spring form pan. I peeled and sliced four cups of apples and stirred in half a cup of sugar. I put the fruit on top of the crumb layer and sprinkled the reserved crumbs on to the fruit. I put the pan on a cookie sheet to catch any drips, put the cake in the oven and set the timer for 45 minutes and, hearing the oil paints calling, headed to my studio.

Five minutes later the house suddenly went dark and quiet. We had no electricity. It was too dark to paint and the cake was in an electric oven with no power. What to do? I decided to leave home, at least for a few hours and deal with the cake later.

When I returned, the electricity had come on. I opened the cold oven and saw the pale, unbaked cake. Rather than declaring defeat and putting the cake in the compost, I turned the oven back on, set the timer for 45 minutes and waited. When the timer buzzed, the cake was golden brown, bubbling with juice, and the scent of apples and cardamom filled the kitchen. Amazing – a cake that’s dependable even when the electricity isn’t.

I don’t recommend interrupting a baking cycle for four hours. I do, however, recommend this simple fruit cake. It is easier to make than pie and requires no special equipment. Served warm, with a bit of ice cream it’s perfect for dessert.

It can also serve as the centerpiece of a Yankee breakfast if you agree with this definition of a Yankee. To a foreigner, a Yankee is an American, to an American, a Yankee is a northerner, to a northerner, a Yankee is somebody from New England, to a New Englander, a Yankee is somebody from Vermont, and to a Vermonter, a Yankee is somebody who eats apple pie for breakfast.

You’re in for a treat whether you serve this cake as breakfast or dessert.

note: The oil painting at the top is not the unfinished landscape I planned to work on. I haven't gotten back to that one since the power failure..

- Carol Egbert

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