In the 1770s, Russia went to war with the Ottoman Empire and captured vast territories along the Black Sea, what is today Crimea and southern Ukraine. Russia put out a call across Europe for farmers to come work the land. My ancestors answered that call, settling in a German village on the Dnieper River which is today called Zmiivka.
Almost a century later, Canada began advertising across Europe for farmers and my German family packed up and moved again in 1890-93. Even though they had lived in Russia (now Ukraine) for several generations, they maintained their German culture and cuisine based on potatoes, apples, dumplings, noodles, sausages and pork.
At first, it might have been difficult and expensive to get apples in Saskatchewan. In 1914, a barrel of apples was $4.25 while a 100-lb sack of flour was just $3.40. Early varieties of apple trees could not survive our harsh winters, but in the 1920s the University of Saskatchewan began working on new varieties for our climate. Before long, apple trees were a common sight in rural farmyards.
My Grandma Ehman made the most of the apple orchard on our farm – crab apples for jelly and larger yellow apples for applesauce, apple pastries and apfelkuchen. I'm hoping to visit Zmiivka next year, but in the meantime, I'm travelling back in time with a big slice of grandma's apfelkuchen.
Apfelkuchen (Apple Cake)
1 cup soft butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
5 apples, peeled and sliced
1 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup cake dough
2/3 cup flour
For the cake: Cream butter and sugar well. Beat in eggs until fluffy. Add vanilla. Sift and add flour, baking powder and salt. Remove 2/3 cup of batter and reserve for the topping.
Press remaining batter into a greased 9 x 12 inch or 9 x 9 inch pan. Cover with sliced apples. Sprinkle evenly with sugar and cinnamon.
Mix reserved batter with the remaining flour until crumbly. Spread over apples. Bake at 350F for 40-45 minutes, until the top is light brown.
(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)