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Grandma’s Last Apple Cake

  • Serves
    2 or more
Author Notes

Grandma taught us how to make apple pie and how to eat clean the chicken off the bone. I remember her annual trips from Lido Beach to visit us in Dutchess County, NY, when the whole family would pile into the station wagon to spend an autumn Saturday morning picking Macs—Macouns and Macintoshes. All week, the kitchen exploded with Grandma’s cooking: Roast chicken with lots of garlic, candied apples and rustic-beyond-rustic apple pies. My sister and I were allowed to make our own galettes (no-one in my family knew that word back then) with leftover pastry scraps and apple pieces. Grandma’s signature touch: lemon pits in the pie. Cue grandma’s high pitch “that’s how you know it is home-made!”

Later, much later, I make what I know will be my final visit to Lido. By now, Grandma’s eyesight has completely deteriorated, but still I arrive to the smell of chicken legs and thighs baking in the oven. A pile of peeled and sliced apples sits on the counter. How did she do that? Somehow Grandma is up on the stepladder, but each Crisco bottle (and there are many) contains about a cup of cloudy oil bathing several peeled & smashed garlic cloves. “Abby—is there any oil with no garlic?” No there is not. I help measure out the oil and escape the kitchen, taking my pregnant belly for a last long Lido swim.

I return salty and a bit sad to the outside table set for two, pitcher of lemonade pits and pulp floating on top, and platter of chicken, and grandma’s signature salad (recipe to come). I am starving; the chicken is savory and the salad is garlicky and creamy. The cake’s brown sugar moistness and apples and cinnamon aroma overcomes my fear of botulism poisoning. Baby and I will be fine. I aim for a second and then a third piece—and the knife runs into something hard. I cut around—it’s a drumstick bone, perfectly cleaned of meat, baked right into the cake. Here’s the recipe. We always thought it came from great grandma Rosie and the shtetl, but the cake part is remarkably similar to “Quick Plain Cake 1” in The Settlement Cookbook. (I have Grandma’s 1938 edition).



  • 3/4 cup

    brown sugar

  • 1 1/2 cups

    all purpose flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon


  • 2 teaspoons

    baking powder

  • 1/3 cup

    vegetable oil, garlic flavoring optional

  • 1

    egg, beaten

  • 3/4 cup


  • 1 teaspoon


  • 1 teaspoon


  • 1/4 teaspoon

    ground cloves

  • a

    pile of crisp cooking apples, peeled, cored, and sliced not too thin

  • 1

    chicken drumstick, to munch while cooking

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Grease and flour an 8″ square pan
  3. Mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl
  4. Mix together the wet ingredients in another bowl
  5. Just barely mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients
  6. Mix in as many apples as the batter can hold (~4-6 apples)
  7. (Optional) at some point drop the well-cleaned chicken bone into the batter by accident
  8. Scrape/pour batter into prepared pan and bake ~20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

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