Apple Pecan Cake

My paternal grandmother was a wonderful cook, employing her grandmother’s “lump of this and dash of that” measuring methods. Eventually, she translated favorite recipes to modern measuring devices – graduated measuring cups and spoons – meticulously recording details on 3 1/2 × 5 index cards. After her death, it was this recipe collection, of all her earthly possessions – stored in a hand-made, beautifully dove-tailed hand-rubbed box, 6 by 12-inches long – that I held to be the most dear. I stopped my aunt and mother – Betty Crocker, General Mills, and Pillsbury women – from pitching the recipes and box into the trash bin, with both expressing surprise I’d want “something so old-fashioned and out-of-date – who wants to do all that cooking?” One person’s junk…..another person’s treasure……..

Luke 22:27 For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves.

Food is powerful, which is why the Lord uses feasts, dinner tables to illustrate important points throughout Scripture. A “fruit” cake recipe in my grandmother’s collection – not the doorstopper or regifting fruitcake – bears witness to the hold food has over our memories and hearts. When its aroma fills my home, three decades of loss melt away. For one tiny moment, I fly across the span of memories, once again seated at my grandmother’s kitchen table, tea cup in hand, her Currier & Ives “Blue Willow” pattern lovely against her white linen table cloth. Waiting patiently, enjoying the sensations of once again being the child, being well-loved, I watch as she opens the oven door……..

“Mommy, is it done?” – voices of another time, my children, and sounds of my oven’s digital timer pull me back to the Here and Now…

I’m now the one creating memories and routines for my own children to someday share with their own families – memories not made from boxed or store-bought foods – but instead passed down through the generatations.

My grandmother’s apple cake is a lovely butter-rich batter lightly wrapping each piece of fruit. This is a foundation recipe, one that can be changed with whatever fruit is in season.

Spring means fresh strawberry-rhubarb, the cake’s top sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar which bakes into an almost brulee-like crackled glaze. Summer’s taste is blueberry, gathered from a neighboring wetland area, the still-warm cake topped with freshly-whipped vanilla-scented whipped cream. Autumn’s version is apple cake, loaded with cinnamon and pecans (or walnuts), drizzled with a hot caramel sauce, or cinnamon-spiced cream cheese frosting.

Through the years, I’ve have made changes to her recipe following the thinking of “Nourishing Traditions”, reducing the sugar from 2 cups to 3/4-cup, replacing half the butter with coconut oil, and using a quick- sourdough technique, to reduce the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors which are a natural part of the whole grain. An alternative would germinated, dehydrated flour which could then be ground, avoiding the soaking stage. It’s expected that all ingredients are organic.

Grandma’s Apple Cake

  • 1/2 to 3/4 c. brown sugar (Rapadura or Muscavado are best)
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1/4 c. coconut oil
  • 2 c. flour (I grind my own hard white wheat – winter or spring)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Juice and zest of one organic lemon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. powdered ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 6 c. apples, peeled, diced
  • 2 c. chopped pecans or walnuts

  1. At least 8 hours before baking, (or overnight) cream sugar, butter and coconut oil.
  2. Blend in flour, lemon juice and zest.
  3. Cover and let sit at room temperature, for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350f (325f if using glass pan).
  5. Whisk eggs, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla and all spices.
  6. Gently stir into cake batter. Fold in apples and pecans. There will NOT be a lot of cake batter. The apples dominant this cake – NOT the batter.
  7. Spread in prepared (greased with coconut oil) 9×13 pan.
  8. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes.
  9. Cool in pan.
  10. Serve with hot caramel sauce, spread with your favorite Cream Cheese Frosting or cinnamon-spiced whipped cream.