It’s coming up to the Autumn Equinox (23 September) when the day and night are equal in length and then start to get shorter until the shortest day around 23 December (the Winter Solstice). Some pagans call the Autumn Equinox ‘Mabon’ when they take time to give thanks to the abundance of the harvest and to respect the turning of the season.
I love this time of the year – fruit ripening and trees providing glorious avenues of colour. It also makes me feel slightly sad: another year is turning towards its end. Spring and Summer are becoming a memory – particularly this year when the Summer was so glorious. It also reminds me of those childhood days starting a new school or going up a year – back to uniforms and teachers!
This year has been exceptionally good for apples and blackberries, and for most fruits. Bumper crops have been reported. So my recipe at this time of year has to include these two typical fruits of Autumn. The recipe is based on Mary Berry’s Somerset Apple Cake but I’ve added cinnamon, nutmeg and some Demerara sugar on the top to give it some crunch.
The apples came from a nearby tree – the last remnant of an ancient apple orchard in Glastonbury town. We have to time it right, otherwise the jackdaws get them first. These otherwise intelligent birds look so funny when they’re blissfully pecking away and then the apples fall off the tree – they look around wondering what’s happened! I never understand why they don’t just sit under apple trees and peck the windfalls, but I suppose they’d have to be on the lookout for predators. The blackberries were from the hedgerows around Glastonbury Tor. Don’t blackberries taste so much nicer than supermarket ones? I know there’s the fear of bugs, but just soak them a few minutes in salt and all the bugs will come out.
I initially thought the mixture was far too thick. I remember those days when my cookery teacher used to always say “Remember girls, the mixture has to drop from the wooden spoon by the count of five!” This mixture didn’t, which worried me. In fact it was reluctant to drop at all, so I did add a drop of milk but then stopped myself adding more as I thought the apples and blackberries might sink if I continued. I also thought, Mary Berry is never wrong when it comes to ingredients. I’m so glad I stopped myself as I was right – the fruit did want to sink, and if I’d continued to add more milk I think it would have been quite stodgy. As it was, it was a light cake with the lovely taste of apples, blackberries, cinnamon and nutmeg coming through.
- 225g (8 oz) self-raising flour
- 1 level teaspoon baking powder
- 225g (8 oz) caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- 150g (5 oz) butter, melted
- 350g (12 oz) cooking apples, peeled and cored
- 150g (5 oz) blackberries
- Half teaspoon cinnamon
- Few shavings of nutmeg
- 25g (1 oz) flaked almonds
- Tablespoon Demerara sugar
- Cream (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 160ºC/Fan 140ºC/Gas 3.
- Lightly grease a deep 20cm (8in) loose-bottomed cake tin.
- Measure the flour, baking powder, sugar, eggs, almond extract and melted butter into a bowl
- Mix well until blended, then beat for a minute.
- Spread half this mixture into the prepared tin.
- Slice the apples (I did mine quite thinly but Mary suggests slicing them thickly) and lay half on top of the mixture in the tin, piling mostly towards the centre.
- Add the blackberries.
- Add the rest of the sliced apples.
- Sprinkle the cinnamon and grated nutmeg over the apples.
- Spoon the remaining mixture over the apples. This is an awkward thing to do, but just make sure that the mixture covers the centre well as it will spread out in the oven.
- Sprinkle with the flaked almonds and Demerara sugar
- Bake in the preheated oven for 1¼–1½ hours until golden and coming away from the sides of the tin.
- Serve cold or warm with or without cream.