Notes from the Rabbit Hole

Do you ever start thinking about something and head to the Internet to find out more? That’s a silly question! Who doesn’t? As a child my mother would send me to the encyclopedia to “ look it up” when my curiosity would get the better of me. If I couldn’t find what I needed, a trip to the library would be in order. But today, a world of knowledge is at our fingertips, and sometimes I go down a deeper rabbit hole than I bargained for.

Take, for example, my recent quest for a recipe for an apple cake. When our Food! Glorious Food! SIG met last week, Janet Keeler, our speaker, mentioned that she had recently been baking an apple cake that she could not get enough of. Idea planted. Mmm. Apple cake sounds yummy. I, who am very fond of cookbooks, started my search on my bookshelves and pulled several books I thought might have a recipe for this cake. Here I found many apple cake recipes. No two alike. And, what constitutes cake in one culture might look more like pie in another.

Next, I went to Google and typed “ recipe for apple cake” to see what I might find. Choose a nationality or culture. German, French, Polish, Hungarian, Irish, British, Norwegian, Jewish, Dutch, Swedish, Australian. Choose a family member: mom, Aunt Betty, Cousin Joan. All have their very own apple cake recipes. I counted over 80 recipes for apple cake on alone. And that was just one website.

As I looked more closely, there were variations on the type of apples to be used. Some bakers prefer Granny Smith apples for their tartness and for their substance after baking. Grannies hold their shape. (I like reading that since I am a woman of a certain age.) Other bakers like a variety of apples mixing tart and sweet. Still other bakers don’t specify. Use any apples on hand. All apple cake recipes contain apples. The remaining ingredients vary widely. Most call for flour of some type and most have eggs though the number of eggs varies. Oil or butter? Nuts, raisins, neither or both? Spices? Vanilla or burbon?

The type of pan one uses for baking also matters. Loaf pan?. Springform pan? Square cake pan or round? Bundt? For some bakers this matters. And then, does the cake stand alone or need a topping? Should it be a simple glaze or dusting of sugar? Or would a caramel icing be more appropriate? Maybe some nuts – – or maybe not?

Where did the apple cake originate? Does anyone know? Of course, food historians would provide some clues but the Internet just took me to Wikipedia where apples were linked to Chaucer but not apple cake specifically. The entries there referred to the basics with nationality overtones. Jewish apple cake seemed to have the most text because it is linked to the holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

So where does all of this lead me? To the kitchen, of course. Time for baking. I have baked apple cakes in the past (Polish, German, Jewish) but today I want to try Janet’s recommendation. If you are curious, too, here is the link to the recipe she loves:  from Once Upon a Chef.

Happy Baking.


Jane Applegate Belzer, retired professor and Dean of USF’s College of Education, joined OLLI in 2012.  She has taken OLLI classes in literature, art, history, lifestyles, nature and technology.  Jane is a member of the Hiking SIG and the Faculty Support Team. With Ara Rogers, she teaches A Course is Born: From Concept to Classroom, an OLLI course for prospective instructors.


8 Replies to “Notes from the Rabbit Hole”

  1. Oh how I loved your story with my morning coffee on the lanai! Wishing I had a piece of any apple cake! I’ve been saving various recipes that sounded good for years. My favorite way is to put them in a 3 ring binder. Cook books had way too many uninteresting recipes and took up too much space. Recently I had found another apple cake recipe and found the binder pages so tight I struggle to add it. When I asked myself the likelihood of making it and my response “not very” had me looking at the dozen similar but different ones I already had saved, and as of yet having made none of them. I have 9 binders of recipes, thoroughly organized with many tabs. That’s when I decided I needed to purge my collection because as my age, if I made something new everyday, I still wouldn’t have enough lifetime left to make them all! And heavens, but I can’t forget to make my real favorites! THANK YOU for a delightful story.

    1. Do you hire out? Totally impressed with your collection of 9 binders of recipes all catalogued, etc. Just another project to throw most all those newspaper clippings away, stored in three file folders. Want to try the apple cake–which recipe do you favor? Marylou Raterman

  2. I love this story, Jane! I had a similar experience when my sister said her “assignment” for her family’s Thanksgiving dinner was baked apples. When I asked her for the recipe, she sent me a list of ingredients she uses (she thinks), and said “Just Google the rest.” I surfaced a few hours later… I think she has made the recipe so many times that she cooks it by feel and appearance rather than by strict measurements. Just like Grandma!

  3. Yum. Mouth watering.
    Love the story Jane and the photos too. Did you make the recipe like Janet recommended? How did it compare? It sure looks good.

  4. I have witnessed your cooking and admire your recipes. Well written, Jane, you made my mouth water for my New Jersey Macintosh apples. I used to buy them by the bushel. Florida is sadly lacking in good apples. Enjoyed your photos too. I enjoyed your story. Thanks.

  5. Hello Jane! I hope you are well! I had my cousins over yesterday, and made this apple cake, IT WAS AMAZING!!!! I knew any recipe you would recommend would be fabulous, and I was correct. Thank you so much! My cousins all want the recipe now!

  6. Jane, thank you for a wonderful story that brings back memories for many of us. For me as a very young child, we had an apple tree in our back yard. My mother would tell me to ‘go out and pick some apples”, then she and I would sit on our back porch together peeling the apples, then she would bake a terrific apple pie (under my careful guidance, of course).

    And now today we have the Internet, which often spoils us in our thirst for information. Thank you for rekindling those great memories!

  7. I loved the story and how you were “taken down the rabbit hole”. So often I start looking for something and end up getting excited about something entirely different. At least you stuck to apple cake!
    Your comment about the different types of apples used was interesting. I believe in older recipes, whenever tart apples were needed, Granny Smith was the way to go. There seem to be so many different varieties nowadays!
    Thanks for brightening my day!

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