There is a certain type of Southern cook who is the envy of us all. You know her. She is the queen of the covered dish. The preacher never refuses an invitation to her house for Sunday dinner. When a relative dies, the silver lining for the mourners is that she will bring a casserole.
I know her very well. She’s my mother-in-law.
She carries a wealth of recipes in her head and cooks straight from the heart. Without so much as a passing glance at instructions, she conjures all sorts of gastronomical goodness as if by divination. Once I watched her take a potato, a sack of confectioners sugar, and peanut butter and turn it into Christmas candy. I asked her for the recipe. She said, “It’s a potato, a sack of confectioners sugar, and peanut butter.” No directions. No nothing.
As I visited with my mother-in-law about this time last year, she began chopping apples, then pecans. What is it going to be this time?, I thought, wishing I’d worn looser jeans. Out came the mixing bowl. Some sugar, eggs, oil, spices and flour followed. There was stirring, tasting, and, of course, after it went in the oven, we licked the bowl clean.
This perfunctory tasting did not, however, prepare me for the infusion of apple and cinnamon blended with vanilla and pecan that began to waft from the oven. The next thing I knew, the house was filled with the warm, tantalizing smell of the holidays. This cake, ultimately topped with a praline glaze, was sweet, but not tooth-achingly so, nutty, moist, apple-y — in short, it was perfect.
Bound and determined to recreate this cake for Christmas, I asked for the recipe, knowing that I would get little more than a cheerfully rattled off list of ingredients. I wrote them down, and went home to try to recreate my new-found favorite dessert. The first time I tried to make Pam’s Apple Cake, I failed miserably (turns out when she said “flour” she meant “self-rising flour”). The second time? Let’s just say, I was once again wishing for looser jeans.
My present to you this holiday is the recipe, with instructions, and the hope that you all have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
Pam’s Apple Cake
2 cups sugar
1¼ cups vegetable oil
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups self-rising flour
Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all of the above ingredients, then add:
3 cups diced apples
1 cup chopped pecans
Fold together. Pour the batter into a greased tube pan, and bake for an hour or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Allow cake to cool and turn out onto a cake plate. Poke holes in the top of the cake with a toothpick and drizzle with praline glaze (recipe follows).
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 stick butter
¼ cup milk
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and heat, stirring occasionally, until melted. Allow to boil for a few minutes then remove from heat. When glaze has cooled slightly, drizzle over cake.