Friday, September 8, 2017

Harvest Time Again

My apples are almost all ripe. I planted the first tree--a Northern Spy that I call Nathan, after Nathan Hale--in 2007, and seven trees after that. Two, sadly, have passed away, but the others have gone crazy this year, including Nathan. 

Last year I had a crop of two apples. Not two bushels or two baskets or even two bowls, but two. Period. There was a late frost last year (oh, look, a book plug!) which took out all the blossoms at once. This year has been a polar opposite, with enough sun and warmth and rain to produce a great crop. Even Nathan has cooperated, which is worth noting since the Northern Spy variety is usually late to bloom and late to ripen.

Hudson's Golden Gem -- small, crisp and sweet
(and a squirrel favorite!)

In past years I have featured a wide range of apple recipes on Mystery Lovers' Kitchen, and my creative colleagues here have added more. Sweet and savory. Slaws and slumps, buckles and grunts, crumbles and crisps--they've found their way here. So it's always a challenge to come up with a new one, but I keep collecting cookbooks. Apples have been around in this country from the beginning, so there are plenty of choices for recipes, both old and new.

This harvest offering comes from a recipe in the delightful Brass Sisters' Heirloom Cooking cookbook. Of course, the first problem I encountered with it was the choice of apples: the sisters recommended Granny Smiths. Now, there's nothing wrong with a Granny Smith apple. They're hardy, dependable, keep well, and are good in cakes and pies and such because they hold their shape in cooking. But they're boring. I don't have any in my mini-orchard, because I'm having fun trying old New England varieties, that you'll never see in a store, only at the rare farm stand on a country road in the fall. Many of them don't hold well, don't travel well, and the trees produce for a short time only. So to taste them you have to be in the right place at the right time.

Well, my mini-orchard is the right place, but I didn't have enough of any single variety that were ripe enough to use in this dish, so I used whatever looked good. It won't hurt your pie or cake. In fact, you kind of cover your bases by using multiple varieties, with different textures and flavors and varying amounts of sweetness. I have a couple of Northern Spies in this, and some Hudson's Golden Gems, and a few Cortlands, and what I think is a Newtown Pippin or two. They taste fine together.

Dorset Apple Cake (with a nod to the Brass Sisters)


3-1/2 cups peeled, cored and 
Chopped apples

   diced apples (half-inch dice)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup golden raisins
grated zest of one lemon

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon (or more!)

1/2 cup ( 1 stick) cold butter, cut into dice

1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 eggs, beaten

2 Tblsp Demerara (coarse) sugar


Set the oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. 
Butter (or grease) a 9" square baking pan.

Toss the apples, sugar, raisins and lemon zest in a bowl.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon into a large bowl. Work in the butter by hand.



Mix the vanilla and the cream, then add it to the batter and mix (do not overmix!) Add the beaten eggs, half at a time. The mixture will be stiff.

Fold in the apple mixture with a large spatula.

Place the dough in the pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the coarse sugar over the top.

Ready for the oven

Bake about 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Leaving the cake in the pan, place on a rack to cool.


Best served warm or at room temperature, maybe with a dab of whipped cream.

By the way, I don't mind sharing my apple crop.

A Late Frost, coming in November from Berkley.


  1. I love the Brass sisters! A few years ago my husband heard them on the radio and I got this cookbook..and their bread one too!! Your apple trees are doing just about what they should...after 10 years..people think..plant a fruit tree..get fruit immediately...!! Nope!!! We are due next year for ours...This year we had a few on each tree...

    1. I happened to run into them at a New England Library Association event years ago--they are delightful! And they like mysteries, so we swapped books. I always appreciate anyone who saves old recipes and keeps them alive. You're right--with trees you must have patience, particularly with the Northern Spy, which sadly is why a lot of orchardists give up on the old ones and plant Macintosh.

  2. Can hardly wait for this next release in one of my very favorite series. I was hooked when book 1 was first out as I just adore all books with a MA theme /New England based, and feel connected to the Orchard Mysteries especially since family members in a large fruit farm in NY. I am counting the days.

    Cynthia B.

    1. The house I write about (built by an ancestor) did have an orchard, as did most old New England houses. There was little left when I got to know it. I made some cuttings, but I've never been quite sure if any of them took on my apple trees here. But I keep hoping!

      I'm glad you're enjoying the books!

  3. Apple cake is so good. I got spoiled when we lived in Minnesota. Our town had a couple of commercial apple orchards with at least 20 varieties. Starting in August we could get fresh picked apples. Now I live in non-apple producing area, but I do get satsumas from my citrus tree. I'm still getting very small crops: I think I have 4 or 5 on the tree.

    1. I lived in California for several years, and there was a lemon tree in the back yard. We made a LOT of lemon meringue pie! Plus the neighbors behind had a lovely plum tree, a large part of which hung over our property--they said we could take whatever ended up on our side, which was plenty.

  4. Northern Spy is an old time favorite! I used to get it from a guy on the back-roads on the way to my mother's in NJ.

    I had a recipe for an apple cake (known as Apple Ernie, a la Sesame Street). Simple and delicious. No idea where the recipe went.
    So, I need to use yours! Thanks.

    1. Go for it! And if that one isn't to your liking, I've got lots more, and there are plenty here on MLK.

  5. How lovely of you to share! I had no idea apples would already be ripe. Does the word "spy" have a different meaning here? It's a curious name for an apple!

  6. I just looked around the net and found no explanation for the name.
    "Spy" means "spy", as far as I know.

    1. Wikipedia says some thing vague about the first mention of the variety in the 1800s, but nothing about the origin of the name.