Monday, August 18, 2008

Newspaper Column - ANNE'S APPLE CAKE

Published in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 18 August 2008.

Call me a sour puss, but I love crab apples. Growing up on the farm, I ate buckets of crab apples. I wasn’t permitted to touch the apples on the “pie” tree, which were larger and sweeter with yellow skin, but I could eat all the crab apples I could stomach. Now, I get my fill of crab apples from my neighbour’s tree which hangs over my back fence in Saskatoon.

While crab apples would make a nice pie, they are awfully small to peel and chop enough for a filling. So, I’m looking for a good source of Saskatchewan-grown apples for fresh eating and pies.
Apples have a long history in Saskatchewan, and it’s not always a happy one. The pioneers planted apples and several farms, such as that of Seager Wheeler at Rosthern, had enough apples to sell to the public. With the growing popularity of automobiles “a drive to pick fruit at a local orchard was seen as a good fall outing for the family,” according to a history of apple production published on the University of Saskatchewan website.

However, these apples were not bred for our climate and many orchards were decimated by the harsh winter of 1942. Plant scientists began work to breed new varieties of apples that could withstand the prairie cold. One of the early results, called Norland, helped to revive apple orchards in the 1980s. Since then, other new varieties have been released by the U of S, such as Prairie Sun and Prairie Sensation.

In a happy twist of fate, the cold climate is now seen as a benefit—winter kills many of the bugs that plague apples, so fewer pesticides if any are needed in the orchards, making Saskatchewan one of the best places in Canada to grow organic and pesticide-free apples. However, while the Saskatchewan apple industry shows potential, it is not yet ready to hit the commercial market. It will be very hard to break into the grocery stores, which require large quantities of perfect uniform apples with a long shelf life, but hopefully, within a few years we’ll see more u-pick orchards, farmers’ markets and family farms selling bushels of their homegrown apples.

According to Mike Noel, owner of the Petrofka Bridge Orchard north of Saskatoon, many local orchards were hit this spring with cold, hail and high winds, seriously reducing their harvest. Still, he’ll have enough apples to make and sell his Petrofka Bridge Orchard apple cidre. The Saskatchewan Fruit Growers Association lists several apple u-pick orchards on its website. Perhaps a drive to an apple orchard is still a good fall outing for the family.

Last week, I picked “pie” apples from my friend Judith’s tree and have already made this cake twice. The recipe comes from Anne Daeger of Muenster, who I met at the Humboldt Oktoberfest. She’s had the recipe for so long she can’t remember where it originated. Thanks for sharing, Anne!

Anne’s Apple Cake
For the cake:
5 large apples, peeled and sliced
1 cup soft butter or margarine
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 3/4 cup flour

For the topping:
1 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup cake dough
2/3 cup flour

For the cake: Cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs and mix well. Stir in vanilla, salt, baking powder and flour. Remove 2/3 cup of cake dough and reserve for the topping. Press the remaining dough into a greased 9x12 inch pan. (I use a 9x9 inch pan for a thicker cake.) Cover with sliced apples.

For the topping: Sprinkle the apples evenly with sugar and cinnamon. Mix the reserved cake dough with the flour until it resembles crumbs. Spread over the apples. Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes or until the top is light brown. Anne suggests serving it with cream.

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