It’s apple season! Especially in my basement. I have buckets of them. Thanks to my honey, who ventured out into our friend’s apple orchard high up in the Blue Ridge Mountains (thank you Linda!), I have the sorts of buckets that once held paint and primer, now mounded full of speckled yellow apples, and gnarly red ones.
Picture this: my honey, on top of a step ladder on a beautiful, blue-sky day in an ancient apple orchard where the trees are twisted and fantastically branched, shaking the branches and hearing the plunk of apples as they fall onto the tarp he’s spread below. Linda’s apples are heirloom varieties, and I must confess I don’t know their names, but here are a few likely varieties: Macoun, Spitzenburg, Grimes Golden and (this one I know she has) Pippin.
And now, they are all here in these neat buckets, waiting for me to make applesauce from them. They have been waiting for two weeks.
I did manage a terrific apple pie, and I’ve sliced a few apple chunks into my oatmeal in the morning. Then yesterday I remembered that my mother had a recipe for Dutch Apple Cake.
Where is that recipe? Thank goodness my sister is more organized than I am. She finds it in her own collection, snaps a photo of it and texts it to me from her kitchen, far away in upstate New York. We may be old-fashioned girls sharing recipes, but we know how to use our technology.
The bonus is, my sister gives me a story as well as the particulars for Dutch Apple Cake. The cake was originally from my grandmother’s kitchen, and because it is “Dutch,” I already associated it with our family name, Myers – a Dutch name, my father always told us. As a little girl, I loved this – with my super-blond hair and blue eyes, all I needed was the wooden shoes and apron and I’d have been the iconic Dutch girl. But my sister, who has spent hours researching our lineage, has discovered that the name is actually German. Break out the lederhosen.
Actually, it’s more complicated than that. Here’s the story: Back when “Protestant” meant “protest-ant” and battles with the Catholic church raged, (think Martin Luther and the reformists), a group of German Protestants were so mistreated that they were relocated to a sympathetic region called Palatine. The conflict, however, continued, and on top of what amounted to constant warfare, there was a particularly brutal winter. The Palatines, as they were called, fled down the Rhine to Rotterdam (there’s another Dutch touchstone!) and out to England and “the new world.” This was early 18th century, so our American Revolution hadn’t even begun.
The tale of traveling to America could easily be imagined into a movie: the four- to six-week journey down the Rhine, followed by a bone-chilling winter in London, where the Brits had a rough time handling the estimated 32,000 immigrants from the continent. Finally, according to one account, 3 000 Palatines, sailed off for New York on 10 ships. Four hundred seventy of them died during the passage, or shortly after arrival. Do the math: about 300 people lived (or died) aboard each ship. For weeks. And you can bet they were not Titanic-style vessels.
It takes my grandmothers’ Dutch Apple Cake to show me that being a WASP was not always so easy.
The Myers family wound up in Herkimer, N.Y., where they were active in the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church. Then they sealed their history as “Dutch” by marrying into the Dutch Van Schoonhoven family. As my sister says, “Yes, we are Dutch, yes, we are German, yes, we are even Scottish and Irish and English, but mostly we are American.”
I think about all this as I follow my grandmother’s recipe, noting my sister’s variations (less sugar, lower oven temperature) and add my own (butter instead of oil drizzled on top). I peel the little apples from Linda’s orchard, leaving spirals of skin on the cutting board, then slice them and place them on top of the cake “point side down,” as my mother described, so that the round backs of the slices rise from the batter.
And that evening, when I share the Dutch Apple Cake with my local “family,” the friends who have become like sisters and brothers and children to me while my own sisters live so far away, I tell the story of the Dutch Apple Cake.
It turns out to be pretty tasty.
Now, what to do with the rest of my buckets of apples?