10.31.2012

that primal, wild part of you



 Apple season is coming to an end around here. Maybe it’s just in Maine, but Halloween always feels like the turning point, when the once-vigorous, crisp days of early fall abruptly launch their descent into the truly frigid, gloves-and-hat weather of deep fall. The foliage show is past its peak (and we can usually count on there being at least one big storm on the horizon to barrel through and rip off any leaves refusing to give up the ghost), and the apples have matched pace and all fallen or, more likely, been plucked.


It’s been a busy fall for us, and half of our little family never made it to our local orchard. Wylie and I, though, went on an apple-picking field trip a couple weeks ago with his preschool class, and were very productive. Most families paid their $5 and were given small, kid-sized paper bags to put their pickings in. Wylie, however, announced repeatedly to anyone who would listen that he was going to pick “a billion” apples, and thus we needed the giant plastic bags the orchard also had on hand. In the end, Wylie proved a bit optimistic in his estimate, but we did walk away with over twenty pounds of Macoun apples (some of my favorite, second only to Northern Spy), along with a jug of tart, fresh-pressed cider.


The day was gorgeous, clear and bright with an early chill in the air that had receded by the time we were deep among the apple trees. We rounded up all the little ones after a brief cider-making lesson, head-counted thrice for good measure, and started off. Walking the wide path through the front orchard, we passed the barely-trickle of a stream and the red-orange berries of the hawthorn trees, and continued up the curving hill, all eyes peeled for the pink ribbons on the end of the rows signaling we had reached the Macouns. Eighteen children eagerly set upon the trees, weaving and ducking under the lowest bows, excited to see how quickly they could fill their bags with the abundance surrounding us.

The five-pound totes were quickly filled from trees so bursting with fruit that their canopies were just as much red as green. Harvesting complete, the kids set about playing in the orchard, something I don't think grown-ups spend nearly enough time doing. Hide-and-seek among the heavy, low-hanging branches, racing down the rows, "testing" the apples to find the one with just enough snap, sweetness and bite to be deemed Perfect - all were natural inclinations for children let loose among the apples, unaware as they were that for some people, row upon row of laden fruit trees equals many days of manual labor.

As I watched them, first in the orchard, then later as they sampled cider, and finally when the class trekked to the playground across the street for snack and play time, I noticed how freely all the children just . . . were. They barely noticed the yellow jackets wizzing around their heads, who were looking for their share of the sweet, fermented fruit; the adults' hands waving the wasps away were a much bigger nuisance. They made no pains to avoid the oversized ruts of soft, cracking mud left behind by the tractor. They were unencumbered by worries about how far one could run away before crossing the line into "too far." They were outside in October and the sun was shining and it was good. And as I took it all in, it occurred to me that children are often a lot better at what they do than we grown-ups are at what we do.


 It's partly the nature of the beast, I know. But I can't help feeling that it's too easy to let obligation and responsibility and inhibition creep unhindered into our lives, until it sometimes seems as though those are the things that define our lives. When was the last time you bent down close to watch a wasp have a drink? Or got excited about the geometry and texture of giant tire ruts stamped into the earth by farm machinery? Or even swung as high and fast as your legs would pump you? Because really, I don't think many of us actually outgrow "kid" stuff. We just tell ourselves we do, in our eagerness to grow up and prove ourselves to be far too mature to appreciate the silly things that occupy the time of a four-year-old.

We are doing ourselves a disservice.

The heaviness of adulthood, the worries and requirements, distractions and ambitions, could be put in better balance if somewhere along the way we could remember that, even in grown-up hands, play dough feels good. And running through a field can release that primal, wild part of you that gets repeatedly tamped down under towering piles of "I ought to do . . " And that some of the most fascinating things we will ever see often take place on a very small scale, way down at ground level.

I wish we went to the orchard more. Without an agenda, without time constraints, without fear of wasps. Because, amongst the apples and the bugs and the funky-sweet scent beneath the trees, it can be beautiful to just be.

 
Apple Snacking Cake
Yields one 11-inch cake

After making two apple pies, a batch of applesauce, eating numerous apples out of hand and with our stash dwindling, I needed a more substantial, but less dessert-y vehicle for my apples. Most years, I'd turn unthinkingly to Louisa May Alcott's apple slump, but this year I wanted something a bit more refined, though not too fancy. Enter the snacking cake. Equally at home first thing in the morning or alongside a cup of tea in the afternoon, this cake is a lovely study in contrasts. Soft apples are held in place by a sturdy batter, a batter which manages to be both delicate (due to the spices) and hearty (thanks to the relatively small amount of sugar). It's inspired by Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake, from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table, but the end result is a very different cake indeed. Though it is delicious on day one, after having a full day to settle into itself it becomes even better. But, be forewarned, it is almost too moist to enjoy by day four. Not that you'll have any left by then, anyway.

202 grams Tara's gluten-free pastry flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon psyllium husk powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
pinch fine sea salt
2 large eggs
100 grams light brown sugar
114 grams butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 large, tart apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

 Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter an 11-inch removable bottom tart pan (a springform pan would also work here).

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, psyllium husk powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs and sugar on high speed until pale yellow and thick. Add the melted butter and vanilla and whisk to blend well.

Switching to mixing by hand with a wooden spoon, stir in the sliced apples and then add the dry ingredients and mix to incorporate. Pour into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until golden brown. Cake may be served warm or at room temperature, and you will find that no one objects to a little scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Store cake, wrapped airtight, at room temperature for up to three days.

2 comments:

  1. I just found your blog through Mom It Forward. My goodness...it's so beautiful!

    One of my daughters is gluten-free. She also can't have sugar, so I'm looking forward to poking around here and finding some ideas for her.

    Nice to meet you! Lisa~

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    Replies
    1. Hi Lisa,

      Thanks so much for visiting! While many of my recipes contain sugar, I find it's one of the easiest ingredients to replace if you're looking to remove it from your diet. Honey and maple syrup are my two favorite unrefined sweeteners, though I know many people also love coconut palm sugar and stevia. Good luck with your daughter's diet, and please let me know if I can be of any help!

      All the best,
      Tara

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