Last weekend we went apple picking at Thompson's Orchard in New Gloucester, Maine and wound up with forty pounds of Cortlands and McIntoshes. I've been trying to figure out how we let that happen. In my defense, I only had one cider doughnut at Thompson's, which should speak to the fact that I have some capacity for self control. I just don't know what forty pounds of apples in two bags feels like. Thompson's is also unique for passing out pronged, lacrosse-stick-like apple pickers. That made it much easier to get many, many apples from the high branches.
Yeah, I'll blame a pronged lacrosse stick.
As one with forty pounds of apples is want to do, I have spent a lot time eating apples, incorporating apples into oatmeal, juicing apples, inquiring about how to make hard cider, making applesauce, thinking about what kind of apple pie to make, and, finally, baking Aunt Harriet's recipe for Apple Knobby Cake.
This cake was apparently once, or maybe still is, popular. I had never heard of it before and I expect that I'm perhaps in the minority. I have found versions of the recipe on the web. The Boston Globe printed a story with a similar recipe as recently as 2008. The Brattleboro Reformer out of Brattleboro, Vermont ran a story on Apple Knobby Cake just a little over a week ago. You can even have it in the dining hall at the University of Massachusettts, Amherst. It looks like a New England food and, perhaps, has origins in England.
I guess it turns out that not all of my great-grandmother's or great-aunt's recipes are thoroughly bygone.
I'm a bit stumped as to the cake's exact origins though. None of the digging I've done online or in books has turned up much of anything. Surely if so many people still eat it, maybe one person might be able to enlighten me as to where or when this cake began.
Aunt Harriet probably got this recipe in the 1970s or 1980s. My scanned copy is not great, but the original definitely went through a ditto machine and I haven't had the pleasure of smelling ditto-machine ink since I was in elementary school. (It turns out that it took a lot of alcohol to make those copies, which may explain why all my elementary-school classmates were just a little addicted to ditto.) Maybe a school-teacher friend passed it along to Harriet. I'll have to do a bit more snooping if I've ever to know.
What I do know is that this cake is really simple to make and that it's wonderfully moist and sweet with a crispy, cookie-like crust. I've made it twice now and will probably make it one more time. Do peel the apples and don't forget to add the vanilla.