Growing up in the countryside, I never appreciated the graceful curves of mountains outside my backdoor, the endless trees that nature set ablaze each fall, or the remarkable freshness of the air. But after two years breathing the pollution that emanates from Shanghai’s prolific factories and cars, I was eager to immerse myself in the great outdoors. So when a friend suggested we go apple picking one weekend, I eagerly agreed.
The problem is that Washington, DC, isn’t exactly flush with orchards. We ultimately drove about an hour and a half to the Marker-Miller Orchards near Winchester, Virginia. After purchasing our bags, we headed out to the fields where the trees were heavy with fruit. The farm had several varieties of apple trees and we were given a map to find them. A mixture of tart and sweet apples was recommended for the tastiest pie. For seven dollars, I got to cram as many apples in my bag as I could; more industrious folks pulled wagons behind them piled high with fruit.
Another popular feature of Marker-Miller Orchards is the pumpkin patch. It was pretty well picked over the day of our visit, as the farm had hosted a pumpkin festival the weekend before, but there were still some excellent future jack-o-lanterns in the mix!
The gift shop was stocked with a variety of local products, from apple butter and fruit jams to honey and wine. Virginia doesn’t have the most robust wine industry, but we were still keen to participate in a tasting. Unfortunately we were eating lunch when the start of the tasting was announced; we showed up once it had already begun and were turned away.
Luckily the smell of freshly baked donuts cushioned the blow. The most delightful treat to come from our apple adventure was the farm’s special apple cider donuts. Soft on the inside with a crunchy cinnamon-sugar crust, I devoured one on the spot with a cup of steaming apple cider and took a twelve-pack home to enjoy later.
Once I was home with my apples, I had to figure out what to do with them. The obvious answer was to make a pie, but that sounded rather exhausting. Instead, I opted to bake a cake, and it was sensational!
I have the habit of tearing recipes out of magazines and storing them in a binder in my kitchen. Most of these dishes never get made, but I like to keep them just in case. This particular recipe came from the October 2009 edition of Redbook Magazine. It is called simply, “Best-ever Apple Cake.” I made just one or two small tweaks:
3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 4 large apples, peeled, cored and sliced
- 1 tbsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- Heat oven to 350F. Rub 10-inch Bundt cake pan with butter. (I rubbed mine pan with the stick of butter before melting it.)
- In a large bowl, mix 2 tbsp. flour, 1/4 cup sugar and all the cinnamon. Add apples and toss to combine.
- In another large bowl, mix remaining flour and sugar, baking powder and salt. Add eggs, oil, melted butter, orange juice and vanilla extract. Beat until the batter is smooth.
- Pour two-thirds of the batter into the prepared pan. Top with all the apple mixture. Spoon remaining batter over the apples.
- Bake 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Carefully turn cake over onto rack and lift off the pan.
- Serve warm with vanilla ice cream!
Have you ever gone apple picking? What did you make with the fruit?