Jim’s Raw Apple Bread

Kahil Gibran’s masterpiece, The Prophet, is a book that draws me back every few weeks. It is a poetic work of philosophy, much like another of my favorites, Ecclesiastes, in the Old Testament. The book is structured as a series of requests asked of the prophet by the people of the city when they learn that he is leaving to return to his homeland.

Almustafa, the prophet, has been waiting twelve years for a ship to come for him, and the people have come to respect his wisdom. Knowing that he is about to leave them, they ask for guidance about birth, death and everything in between. One old man, an innkeeper, asks about eating and drinking. After saying that he wishes that one did not need to live off other creatures, the prophet explains that one should eat and drink reverently. Here is part of his answer:

‘….And when you crush an apple with your teeth, say to it in your heart,
“Your seeds shall live in my body,
And the buds of your tomorrow shall blossom in my heart,
And your fragrance shall be my breath,
And together we shall rejoice through all the seasons.”’

I was in college when I first encountered Gibran, but his reference to the fragrance of apples took me back to my childhood. I can still remember how wonderful our basement smelled after we stored the apples from our annual trip to Bayfield every fall.

There were a few farmsteads with an apple tree or two near Hayward, and my grandmother Hopp had a big crabapple tree that usually bore a good crop of “pickling crabs,” but the climate in northern Wisconsin then was not very hospitable to apple trees. That didn’t stop my mother from planting apple trees she ordered from various catalogs and magazine ads. Long after I had left home, she found a couple of varieties that gave her enough apples for a few pies and various other apple desserts.

I’m sure that she made apple bread, but this recipe is from James Beard’s Beard on Bread. I call it Jim’s Raw Apple Bread for two reasons. First, James Beard was Jim to his close friends. I cannot claim any right to such familiarity, but, second, I do know other men named Jim, and one of them supplied the apples for our apple bread this year.

I enjoy walking in New Richmond. Walking is good exercise, and it also provides one with a leisurely opportunity to see things that are not always apparent while hurrying through the city in a car or even on a bicycle. Some of my more interesting encounters have involved an eagle, deer (several does and one time a magnificent ten point buck) and a black bear.

On a walk a few years ago I noticed some beautiful apples on a tree overhanging an alley not far from our house. This year I gathered the courage to knock on the front door of house with the apples which looked prime for picking. When the householder answered the door I introduced myself and asked if he would mind if I picked a few of his apples. He told me to pick all I needed and said that he picked them mostly to take to his mother-in-law. “I fill a pie plate with apples and take it to her. In a few hours the plate comes back filled with a delicious apple pie.” He also told me his name was Jim.

So here is the recipe for Jim’s Raw Apple Bread. It is particularly easy to make, since you don’t even peel the apples, and it’s not as sweet as some other apple breads. If you use nice red apples like the ones from Jim’s apple tree, you will end up with a particularly lovely bread to share with family and friends.

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
2 T buttermilk
1 cup coarsely chopped unpeeled apples
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 tsp. vanilla

PROCEDURE:

An hour or so before you begin making this cake, bring a stick of butter to room temperature. While the butter is softening, you can wash and chop a cup of apples. Remove the seeds and cores, but leave the peels. You can also mix the salt, soda and baking powder with the flour while the butter softens.

Preheat the oven to 350º and grease a nine by five-inch loaf pan.

Cream the softened butter. Slowly cream in the sugar and then beat in the eggs. Sift about a third of the dry ingredients into the sugar mixture and beat well. Beat in a tablespoon of buttermilk, then another third of the flour, then the second tablespoon of buttermilk. Beat in the remainder of the flour followed by the vanilla. Fold in the apples and nuts.

Put the batter into the pan and bake on a center shelf for fifty to sixty minutes. Test for doneness at fifty minutes. A toothpick inserted near the center of the loaf will come out clean when the bread is done.

Let the bread cool in the pan for five or six minutes, then loosen it and carefully transfer the bread to a rack. Let it cool completely before slicing.

NOTES: If you don’t have any buttermilk in your refrigerator, you can substitute sour milk. To make it, put two scant tablespoons of milk in a cup and stir in a half teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, then use it like the buttermilk.

James Beard says you can use either walnuts or pecans. We prefer walnuts for this bread.

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