Here’s something that I love: a crabapple tree. Do I love the sight of a springtime crabapple tree in full bloom? Yes, I do. But this is not the source of my affection, if we are being entirely honest. Do I love crabapple jelly? I do not. This, my friends, this is why I love the crabapple tree. I can see a crabapple tree positively dripping with crabapples, the scarlet orbs so wantonly abundant and perfectly ripe that they drop to the ground at the slightest brush of breeze and I can think to myself: drop away, wee ruby orblettes! Rot and fester! Compost your bad little apple asses right into the ground! Nurture every passing rodent, cervid and insect with your moldering pulp and blessings on your path.
Do I want your sweet great-granny’s recipe for pickled spiced crabapples or your neighbor’s instructions for a perfect crabapple kimchi so that I can learn to love this fruit? Most emphatically I testify to you that I do not. Stand down, all ye who possess affection for and (heaven especially forbid) information regarding the crabapple and its potential comestibility. Gazing at a crabapple tree and feeling no interest in or responsibility for its issue whatsoever is my main source of meditative calm in the autumn months.
About 40 years ago, my father planted an orchard. He is not an especially handy fellow, by his own description. He explains this with Judaism. “If you want a guy who can fix things,” he told me in my tender youth, when I had not yet thought very hard about my list of deal-makers and -breakers in a potential mate, “you are going to have to marry outside the faith.”
As far as marriage went, it turned out there were in fact other factors that played into the thing—though I do have a fella who can fix things, so you may draw your own conclusions (you wouldn’t be the first!) about our faith and other matters. As far as the orchard went, which is I think where I planned to go with this yarn, my dad read some books and plotted out some rows and marked off the right-seeming distance along each row for his trees. He asked a few people what to plant, and largely ignored them (“One thing you’ll never get to grow right in this climate is peaches, son.”) And then he ordered up a goodly number of bare-root, miserable-looking twigs and they came in the mail looking pointless and he set about planting them in holes he dug by hand.
Digging holes for all those gasping twigs shivering in their buckets was tiring work, and since he couldn’t leave off digging, he sought to streamline the process as much as possible. As I recall it, his eye fell upon me, and a little light bulb went on above his head. He held the muddy yardstick up to my frame. Satisfied that ‘correct hole depth’ was more or less my height to the chin at that time, and ‘correct hole width’ was basically my span from elbow to elbow if I was standing at attention, he had me just jump into each hole when he thought he might be done digging. I am not sure how much time this saved him. I am also not familiar with Massachusetts case law in this regard, so if the statute of limitations is not yet expired let me re-emphasize that I jumped into each hole.
Lo, these many years have passed. I am taller and wider than a tree hole. And more fruit comes out of that orchard than can possibly be fathomed by mortal humans who dwell outside the commercial fruit industry.
We eat it and can it and freeze it and dry it and grind it into cider and give it away and still it pours forth. Some vagary of last year’s weather meant we had a pretty slim year, which was still a lot to keep up with. Some different vagary of this year’s weather means we are making up for last year, big time. I can’t get to it all, even my share of it all, no matter how late into the night I peel and pare and slice. I am not complaining. This is a fortunate quandary. But just hang on a sec while I do my crabapple meditation because I am starting to twitch.
And then there are these incredible old trees at my sister’s house, largely un-pruned or tended in any way, which also send forth cascades of fruit. And I sometimes write inside a certain coffee shop on the north side of town; outside it, I noticed there are two or three apple trees, dropping unloved apples of various hues right and left. One sees them everywhere, these fruit trees, once one begins to train the eye. It does not relax one. The world so full of hungry people and here is all this food! None must be wasted! MUST. COOK. ALL. THE. FRUIT.
At the peak of peachiness chez my parents, our own wonky little peach tree–grown from a peach pit that an Italian housepainter who worked on my in-laws’ bathroom smuggled here from Sicily after a visit home, and started in a paint can, I swear this is true–suddenly announced the readiness of about 53 thousand peaches. We went outside to pick them and gathered up a good number, a wholesome and picturesque family activity that entailed some of us teetering on ladders while others got a lot of peaches dropped on our heads, and once the basket was full my husband ran it over with the truck. I hasten to assure you that this was not intentional. He was devastated. Part of me felt terrible because of the waste, and another part of me–let’s call it ‘me’–was more sad about the basket, which was a really nice sturdy one that I use for delivering meals, and about how sad my husband was, and about that fact that I was not very sad about the peaches, than I was about the peaches qua peaches per se exactly, but don’t tell him I said that.
Let us not dwell, at this time, on the collateral assault of the fruit fly brought on by this cornucopia. I have a genteel friend who says she is loathe to discuss the fruit fly matter, but when barely prodded she confessed that she has been driven to draping dishtowels over her baskets to “keep the little bastards out” (language!). Scientifically, this is intriguing. We must have a different class of drosophila here at my house. There is nothing a dishtowel can say or do that will curtail their…well, there I go dwelling when I said I wouldn’t.
I can’t keep up with the near-perfect fruits abundanating (totally made that word up, right there—did you see how I did that? Crabapple, crabapple, crabapple, OM) all around me, the ones I have direct karmic responsibility for, and still that handy husband of mine sometimes parks under an apple tree by the soccer field and lets the fruit drop through his sunroof, still comes home bearing bags of bruised apples he has collected as he passes by untended, fruit-dropping trees—here, he says, here are some apples. I thought maybe you could make something from them.
Yes, I could.
I can make chocolate cake, in fact. Full Disclosure: I made this from last year’s apples, which were in applesauce form already, and let me tell you baby I need to move some applesauce inventory because we got a shipment coming in. Come on down because we are ready to make some applesauce deals.
I made this cake without a shred of hope or enthusiasm, because all of my recent gluten free chocolate cake experiments and forays have been disasters. And yet: total yumster situation. One of those wily devils that packs a nutritional wallop into a package that tastes suspiciously like a treat. The recipe I started with came from here, because I had come into possession of a bag of flour from there, and I’d like to tell you that I switched out the peanut butter for pecan butter because of the natural affinity of buckwheat and toasted pecans, but in fact it was just because I was out of peanut butter. That said, there is a natural affinity between buckwheat and toasted pecans. So it all worked out in the end.
Note: Making your own nut butter takes mere minutes, not all of it active time (see here and here for detailed data, unless that makes it sound hard, because it isn’t). I stuck about a cup each of toasted almonds (110g) and toasted pecans (120g) in the food processor and ground them together until I had nut butter. If you make a little extra, no foul as you can smear it on your toast. (If the grinding process is slow to get underway, you can add a teaspoon or so of neutral oil to get things moving.) Then, because the food processor was already all grimed up with nut butter, I made the whole batter right in it. If you don’t have a food processor, or if you are starting with an already-ground nut butter, you definitely can mix this by hand. And regarding the cocoa, I must tell you again that this stuff is the joint. Sub it for a third of the cocoa called for, anywhere it is called for, and never look back.
Another note: if you are thinking, ‘gee–nut butter and buckwheat and it tastes like cake?! Apple fumes have gone to her head,’ just be reassured that my teenage daughter narfed down a piece and said, suspiciously, ‘how is it possible that you are allowed to eat this because it tastes like cake.’
‘you can’t even taste the apples’ chocolate cake
lightly adapted from Bouchard Family Farms
- 1 cup nut butter (see note above)
- 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup coconut sugar (regular granulated sugar would be a fine substitute)
- 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/3 cup cocoa (see note above)
- pinch of salt
Heat the oven to 350 and lightly oil a 10″ cake pan. A tube pan might be a nice alternative.
Combine the nut butter, sugar, applesauce, eggs and vanilla and cream well together; in the food processor, this was 4-5 pulses, with a scrape-down in the middle.
Sift the dry ingredients together in a small bowl. If you are making this in the food processor, distribute the combined dry ingredients on the surface of the wet mixture, and pulse just until combined, again pausing to scrape the sides and ensure the nut butter at the bottom of the workbowl is fully incorporated.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until the center springs back and the sides have just begun to come away from the pan. If a person were feeling sorry for themselves and wanting to snarf up a lot of warm chocolate cake, this would not be a bad candidate. It also frosts well and seems to keep until the next day without losing much appeal.