Apple kuken is love not lost
Mom was our ‘daily bread’ cook during the week when we were growing up. Her menus laid down the foundation for my adult list of comfort foods – enchiladas, mac-n-cheese, spaghetti in meat sauce, broccoli in cheddar sauce, hell, anything in cheddar sauce, meatloaf, potato boats, etc.
Dad’s meals were Sunday specials. Some were great. Some were horrendous (my siblings and I still needle him about the great bok choy incident of ’88) but all of them were inspired and complicated, usually involving day-long shopping trips, ample pre-prep, and children’s sad sighs when they learned that it was their turn to clean up after him. He loved to cook. He loved to experiment. And it was pretty infectious.
Lots of Mom’s comfort food meals evolved in one pan. Maybe two. Dad took the PBS cooking show little glass ramekins of individual ingredients thing very seriously. To this day, I still don’t own one. I had to wash over a dozen of them on those Sundays. I learned a lot about mise en place. But I also learned to hate ramekins.
It was also from my Dad, a former JPL/NASA engineer and project manager, that I learned about the importance of keeping a good recipe. Mom’s recipe were taught, but never written. The recipe binder pictured above has grown and evolved over the course of my Dad’s 30+ year hobby. There would be no willy nilly guesswork.
My parents are at the stage where they like to show their children where to find important papers “just in case”. I honestly couldn’t tell you where they keep their will. But I know exactly where this binder is.
A recent trip to visit them also revealed that Dad had his mom’s recipe box. From Mom’s side, I have a great foundation in the recipes of La Raza (Mama’s menudo and fideo come to mind. Yum.). Grandma’s recipes, from Dad’s Dutch side, gave me apple kuken, split pea soup, and a bevy of 40’s and 50’s era recipes (swiss steak, ambrosia, etc.). I had thought they were all gone. And even with the recipe box in hand, Dad says they essentially are gone. Grandma wasn’t long on instructions, and she often adjusted things over time without writing them down. He’s tried to make a handful of things he remembers from his childhood, but only ended up with approximations. Hence his hyper-organized bible of food formulae.
My own recipe collection is something between the two – I have the binder, but almost all of the standards have been tweaked so dramatically they don’t even closely resemble the original ingredients or instructions. Have I taken notes? Um, no. Will I? Um, maybe.
But I have Grandma’s apple kuken. And now you do, too. I’m retyping it exactly how she wrote it. Which is to say, it’s not your typical recipe set up (ingredients list followed by instructions). This apple cake was a staple of my childhood Sunday mornings. The bread was fluffy and only slightly sweet, topped with almost gooey soft apples that were coated in sugar and butter. It’s homey. And come apple season, I’ll probably make a few of them.
Evelyn’s Apple Cake
Sift two scant cups of flour, 2 tbs of sugar, 3 tsp of baking powder, and 1.8 tso salt together. Cut in 1/4 cup crisco. Beat one egg well. Add 3/4 cup milk. Slowly add the liquid mixture to dry mixture. Spread in evenly greased pan (about 12″ by 8″). Turn oven to 450 degrees. Pare, core, and cut apples in eighths (McIntosh if possible). Press evenly into dough and cover with a scant cup of sugar. Sprinkle cinnamon generously over all. Sprinkle dots or thin slices of butter over all. Bake at 450 degrees – 15 minutes. Bake another 20 minutes at 375.