Because we have to admit to winter. And that this is the last of the homegrown fruit: apples. The rest is Lidl’s. And dour farmers’ markets. Swede, turnips, parsnips. I’m quite looking forward to digging in winter, actually. I was speaking to one of my allotment neighbours and he said it was wonderful; digging in the cold, the harsh flat wind coming at them from the expanse of park and going home to a warm house, skin flushed, muscles stretched. Cold brittle days with blue sky can be miraculous. Particularly if you’re working physically and you have a good pair of gloves.
There’s nothing worse – or there’s plenty worse, of course – than standing still in winter. Standing and waiting for buses, a bus you know will be late and full of passengers, and the air will be steamy and spongy and it will be a while before you will be home and your feet are cold and oddly wet.
But back to apples, or as we would say in my part of Devon, the slightly urbanised Aah-pew. Back to aah-pews then. And cake and tea and windfalls. Around about now there are apples on the ground, left to rot. Often there are holes in them, rusted, old holes that you know have housed a maggot. Or some other creature possibly still alive.
At the allotment, there are trees heaving with apples, and most of them are on the ground now, unpicked. But you’re not allowed to take them because being caught taking other people’s produce even though it’s on the ground, half-eaten, cloven in two and that horrible defeated colour of yellow – it’s a crime, punishable by immediate eviction. I’ve already been shouted at by Mike, the allotment manager for “resting my chicken wire” against the over-flowing community bin, so I’m sensitive to the small print of communal living. I don’t want to be evicted or ejected. It’s a delicate thing, belonging. Particularly here; it’s subtle.
Paul, my twinkly allotment neighbour, smiled at me with his eyes when I told him this, about not picking. “But we do though”, he said under his breath, like a Dickens character. It was exciting. But then I thought – they’ve been here a while, six years. They know the code. They’ve been initiated into something I’ve yet to learn about. I hear them laughing with Mike under their canopy of grapes, I see Mike’s large ankles sticking out at the bottom, so I know he’s sitting down. It’s a tribal thing. Or maybe it’s because I’m a woman who enjoys reading and growing sorrel.
On my way back from the allotment a few days ago, there was a tree and it had spewed, literally spewed, its load on to the pavement in front of me. Cooking apples, hulking things, spilling everywhere. They looked largely hideous. The front door of the house was open and builders wandered in and out. In the drive was a skip. Inside the drive were even more apples. I picked up a few on the pavement and chucked them into my bike’s basket. I edged inside the drive as a builder wandered out. I was trespassing now. “Excuse me but do you think I could pick up some of the windfall apples?” I asked. “Of course.” He said. “You can take the whole tree if you like”. He smiled and walked back inside. It was as if I’d asked him if I could possibly eat the rotting vegetation that was languishing at his feet. Anyway, I took the lot.
The cake – apple and rosemary with a glug of olive oil – is perfect for a cold day, good with a cup of tea, and all you need for tired muscles, frayed nerves and for sensitive types.
Apple and rosemary olive oil cake
Adapted from Lili Vanilli’s Sweet Tooth
It’s a bit misleading to call this an olive oil cake because there are 2 tbs of it in total and there is also butter. I’m simply lifting the title from the book, and it sounds nice. And it tastes very nice too, sumptuous, appley and damp; I have made it gluten-free on a few occasions, and on every occasion replaced at least half the flour with ground almonds (which I buy whole and blanched and then lightly toast them and grind them myself which makes a real difference to the taste and overall texture). I put more apples in than the recipe asked for (240g) and I would suggest you go even further. I’ve had dry apple cake before and it tastes pointless.
Scant 100g plain white flour (or g/f mix)
Scant 100g ground almonds
1/3 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
85g unsalted butter
85g light muscovado sugar, plus extra for dusting
2 tbsp olive oil
300g peeled, cored and diced Bramley cooking apples or sharp eaters or a combo
½ – 1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 – 3 Bramley (or other apple) slices
1-2 fresh rosemary sprigs to decorate
Grease and line a 23cm round cake tin (I used tin foil though I know you shouldn’t – it was fine). Preheat the oven to 180C fan assisted/350F. Whisk together the flours, spices and baking powder to ensure they are all well mixed. Set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy – about 4 minutes. Beat in the eggs, then add the oil and beat to incorporate. Mix in the diced apple and chopped rosemary, then fold in the dry ingredients.
Put this into the prepared cake tin, level the edges and lay the slices of apple on top however you like. Coat the surface of the cake with a fine dusting of brown sugar. Dip the sprigs of rosemary into cold water, dust with brown sugar, then press into the top of the cake.
Bake for about 30 – 35 minutes or until firm in the centre and an uncooked spaghetti stick or skewer of some kind comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely, or serve warm.