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The Table

The Table The Table

Christmas Apple Cake

An imagined day in the life of my 18th century ancestors.

Isaiah paused with his hand on the door to his home. He had been looking forward to this Seventh Day evening. Baking day meant a home filled with warmth and good smells, water heated for a bath in preparation for going to Quaker Meeting the next morning, the anticipation of a day of rest. He sighed, listening to the loud voices raised in anger inside. Thomas and Sarah, again. Fifteen and thirteen, they could fight like wildcats.

He shook his head and pushed the door open. His two youngest children turned to him with sudden silence as he surveyed the scene. They were faced off across a plain plank table filled with the week’s baking: loaves of dark bread, sweet and savory pies, and a heap of golden biscuits. It was the cake in the center of the table that seemed the source of contention, judging from Thomas’ outstretched finger pointing to it an accusatory manner.


The two assumed a less combative demeanour. “Father”, they both murmured.

Isaiah took off his cloak and broad-brimmed hat, shaking off the snow as he hung them by the door. He rubbed his neck wearily as he turned to face his children. “Where is thy mother?”

Thomas spoke. “Visiting Edna Parsons, who has taken ill with pox. Mother left Sarah to finish the baking, and she has made a Christmas cake, using up costly spices and your cider, Father!”

Isaiah suppressed a shudder at the word “pox”. He sat at the table and put a hand over his eyes. He could sense Sarah vibrating with the desire to defend herself and dropped his hand to the table. “Leave us a moment, Thomas.” Thomas opened his mouth to protest, but thought better of it and went to the room on the other side of the hearth that sat in the middle of the house.

Isaiah pointed to the cider pitcher that rested amidst the loaves and pies. “Be there anything left in that, daughter?” Sarah hastened to fill a cup for her father while he eased off his boots. He took a sip and sighed, tilting his head back. “So, are thou planning to celebrate Christmas, daughter? To call one day holy and another not? Perhaps thee shall bring pagan rituals and gaudy wastefulness into our home?”

“I would not, Father!”

Isaiah gestured to the cake. “What is this, then?”

Sarah dropped into a chair opposite him, the better to lean on her elbows and look earnestly into his eyes. “It is for Edna Parsons. She is Anglican--they do observe such things. As midwife, she has attended many in our village in their illness, without regard to religion. I thought it not a vanity, if it were made for another. Besides,‘tis a plain cake, made with our own apples and walnuts.”

Isaiah lifted his cup. “And my cider.” He drained his cup and set it down. Sarah waited anxiously. Finally he looked at her, and smiled. “It is well, daughter.”

Suddenly, the door opened behind him, a whirl of snow and cold air entering with his wife. Hannah beamed when she saw him, her cheeks red with the cold as she pulled off her hooded cloak and hung it by the door. She drew near to rest her hand on his shoulder. “Good news-’tis the red measles and not the pox.” Hannah smiled again as she looked over the full table. “And thou have done well, Sarah!”

Thomas appeared around the corner as his mother pointed to the cake.“What is that you have made?” Hannah asked.

Thomas opened his mouth, but not before his father spoke. “An apple cake, my dear. Our daughter has made an apple cake for Edna Parsons.”

Apple Cake

Simmer until the apples have doubled in size:

3 cups minced dried apples 12 oz. bottle of hard apple cider 12 oz. container of apple juice concentrate Strain, reserving the juice and spreading the apples on a baking sheet in a 250° oven, stirring often, until they are no longer wet. Put the apples in a bowl, mixing them with: 2 cups chopped walnuts 1 cup flour

In a separate bowl, cream:

1 cup butter 2 cups sugar

Mix in:

2 eggs

Blend in:

2 cups applesauce

In a third bowl, mix together:

1 ½ cups flour 4 teaspoons cinnamon 1 teaspoon nutmeg 1 teaspoon cloves 1 teaspoon allspice 1 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons baking soda Mix the dry ingredients into the wet, then fold in the apples and nuts. Smooth the batter into a large ring pan that has been greased and floured. Bake at 325° for 60 minutes. Serve warm, with whipped cream and a drizzle of the reserved juice.

Sally Rasmussen lives in rural Taylor County with her husband, Tom.