A Seasonal Bake for the Autumn Table
~ Harvest Apple Cake ~
As Autumn envelops us and mists really do pervade the season, there is one British event that I always look forward to, Harvest Festival. I remember setting off for school armed with home-made bread, bakes and tinned food that my parents had donated for the school’s Harvest festival. We would all troop down to the local parish church to take our harvest booty, and oh, what I sight greeted us; swathes of corn and wheat, some still in stucks from the fields; baskets and old wooden boxes overflowing with lovingly tended fruit and vegetables, fresh hen’s eggs nestling on beds of straw and regimented stacks of tins that even the most diligent quarter master would be proud of! And, flowers EVERYWHERE! It was a delight – a sense of relief and achievement hung like an aura inside the cool stone walls of the church. It is with this wonderful Autumn festival in mind that I made this Harvest Apple Cake for Kate’s Autumnal Baking Challenge as well as The Pink Whisks Apple Challenge for October too.
Although we tend to celebrate Harvest Festival towards the end of September and throughout October nowadays, the traditional date falls on the first of August and is called Lammas day. (This is believed to be a corruption of “loaf-mass”, due to the loaves of bread that were taken to church, or “lamb-mass”, as lambs were often dedicated to the church on this day as well). Lammas day was the festival of the first harvest, also called “The Feast of the First Fruits”. As wheat tended to be the first crop to be harvested, it was customary for parishioners to take a loaf of bread made from the new crop to church, as a gift – the beginnings of our modern Harvest Festival in churches and schools.
At Harvest time, it was traditional to make a ceremonial corn figure; called “Harvest Queens” or “Kern Dolls” from the last sheaves of corn that were cut, these figures were believed to harbour the “Corn Spirit”. The Kern Doll was then dressed in white and festooned with coloured ribbons and taken to the Harvest Supper to be placed in pride of place. Another tradition was to plant the Kern Dolly in the following spring on Plough Monday; this was supposed to release the “Corn Spirit” and ensure a bumper crop and harvest for the year. I remember making smaller versions, simply called a Corn Dollies, when I was at primary school – they were considered very lucky, especially when hung up in your homes and particularly in kitchens.
Harvest Home or Harvest Festival is sadly on the decline as our churches struggle to attract worshippers and rural communities diminish, although luckily, Harvest Home Suppers appear to be on the increase in some rural areas of Britain. It would be a great shame if we lost this poignant reminder of bringing the harvest home for the lean winter months. Hopefully this recipe and the cooking challenges I have made this cake for will remind us of what a lovely time of year this is, a time to GATHER in, as well as being an opportunity to give to the less fortunate than ourselves. So, with that in mind – let us away to our kitchens!
Harvest Apple Cake
A simple and easy to whip up apple sponge cake; baked in a tray for easy serving – cut into bars or squares for picnics, school or office lunch boxes & for tea-time treats! (Although I used a round cake tin as seen in the photos for a smaller cake.) It is DIVINE served hot with cream, custard or ice cream for a great autumn pudding. This type of cake is often called Dorset or Somerset Apple cake, but it is really quite popular in nearly all of the English counties, especially during apple harvest season. I have stipulated Bramley apples, which are the queen of British cooking apples – in the absence of these, any tart or sharp “Apply” flavoured or regional “cooking” apples will do.
- 1 lb (450g) Bramley cooking apples
- 1/2 lemon, juice of
- 8 ounces (200g) butter, softened
- 10 ounces (250g) golden caster sugar
- 4 eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 12 ounces (320g) self raising flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 tablespoons Demerara sugar
1. Preheat oven to 180°C/360°F or Gas mark 4.
2. Grease & line a rectangular baking tray – approx 9″ x 7″ (27 cms x 20 cms) or a round cake tin 9″/27cms.
3. Peel, core & thinly slice apples; squeeze the lemon juice over them to stop them discolouring and set them to one side.
4. Place butter, caster sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, flour & baking powder into a large roomy mixing bowl & mix well until smooth. You can use an electric hand whisk if it’s easier.
5. Spread half of the cake/pudding mixture into the prepared tin. Arrange half of the apples over the top of the mixture.
6. Repeat the layer with the remaining half of cake/pudding mixture & apples – the apples should be arranged over the top of the cake/pudding mixture. Sprinkle over with the Demerara sugar.
7. Bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown, well risen & springy to the touch. Leave to cool slightly for 10 minutes & then cut into squares or bars.
8. Wait until the cake has completely cooled before removing the cake & the baking paper from the tin – store in an airtight tin or container.
9. If you wish to serve this warm as a pudding, wait 5-10 minutes and then cut and serve with cream, custard or ice cream. It can also be microwaved too, for a future hot pudding.
See you later!
This recipe was developed and written by me and originally published to the Country Kitchen Magazine in 2009.
Karen S Booth