When I was nine, a family friend gave me a beautiful copy of the fairy tale Rapunzel. The book, sadly now out of print, had wonderful illustrations by a lady called Trina Schart Hyman. At the beginning of the story, before Rapunzel is born, her mother looks daily out of the window at the fruit, flowers and vegetables growing in the beautiful garden next door. In my book, the garden was filled with tall hollyhocks, lilies, sunflowers, tomatoes, pumpkins and- right in the centre- a tree laden with shiny red apples.
Looking out of the windows at the back of our house, in the next-door-but-one garden, there is an almost identical tree. It’s a spreading, gnarled old apple tree, the last remaining from the fruit orchard that was there when these houses were first built. Every Autumn I have looked out at those apples and thought of all the pies, crumbles and cakes that could be made with them. Every year, they seem to get more ripe and delicious. This year they seemed to be a shinier, brighter red than ever before.
The neighbours who own the tree are friendly, but we only ever exchange hellos in passing, and yet last week, having bonded over toddlers and a borrowed screwdriver, we got chatting. The conversation turned to gardens, to the apple tree, and the magic words ‘would you like some of our apples?’ Yes please, yes, I really would! In exchange I offered up some freshly-baked pear muffins, and soon afterwards, two bulging bags full of those crimson and green apples were sitting on the kitchen work surface.
What should I make first with these yearned-for fruit? Eaten as they stand they are crisp and sharp. To my surprise, little S crunched one happily. However, with an invitation to lunch at some good friends’, a pudding was called for. A cake. One in which the apples could star. I made one of my favourite cake recipes; the English Apple Cake from Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries. We took it to lunch, still warm, with a pot of thick cream. A cake lightly scented with cinnamon, buttery and delicious. An apple cake fit for a fairy tale princess.