Tastes of Summer – Apricot Cake

Featured photo by Cala on Unsplash

The Farmer’s Market on Keystone and Booth in Reno opens the first Saturday of June every year. By mid-July I’ve become complacent, despite having longed for it since February. Mid-July I think there’s no need to get up and go pick out fruit – there’s plenty of summer left. And though it’s open until the end of the first Saturday of October, I get over my complacency when dreaded August hits.

August has always been like Sunday to me, back when I was in school. I was a stellar student if we don’t count math into the equation (see what I did there?) but I totally hated school. So I loved Saturday and had a love-hate relationship with Sunday because while I was still free of school, there it was again, looming on the other side of Sunday.

August is like that. Too close to the official end of summer. Which may actually be the Equinox in the last third of September, but feels like the end of Labor Day weekend.

So. Farmer’s Market. Fresh peaches and cantaloupe and basil and onions and tomatoes and corn.

And apricots.

This is a family recipe, which may only mean from some women’s magazine I can no longer identify, but I hadn’t made it in forever before I made it this summer.  It’s simple, fast, tasty, lasts well, and isn’t so rich you can’t just cut a piece, stick it on a napkin and eat it with your fingers while reading or watering the flowers or doing something wonderfully summerish.

It’s Wednesday.  Here’s something sweet for the halfway mark of the week.

Apricot Cake

14 tablespoons shortening

1 cup minus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

4 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

Powdered sugar to sprinkle

Somewhere around 8 to 10 ripe apricots, washed and halved, pits removed (do not remove skin)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

 

Cream shortening and sugar until well mixed, then add the eggs, one at a time, stirring between additions.  Add flour, salt and baking powder.

Grease a pan (I use a 7×9 glass pan that fits it perfectly) and spread less than half of the batter over the bottom of the pan.  The batter is really thick, so using less than half is important because the remainder has to be spooned on over apricots, which ideally should stay where you put them, and dragging thick batter over them doesn’t help that process.

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Place the apricots cut side down on the batter in the pan. I usually make two neat (kind of) rows of apricots but you don’t have to. Wildly random apricots would taste just as good, but one layer seems like the best bet in order for the cake to bake through and to have the wonderful tangy-sweet moist pockets of bright apricot.

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Sprinkle the fruit and batter with powdered sugar. Spoon the remaining batter on top and carefully drag to cover the fruit and bottom batter. Sprinkle the top of the cake with more powdered sugar.

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My traditional and not helpful recipe says to bake in the 350 degree oven for “Not less than one hour.” First off, not true! And second off, who says this? It is not helpful. So – I baked mine on a rack in the middle of the oven fur just 50 minutes and it was just this side of dry – perfect, but getting it out at 47 or 48 minutes might have been a tiny bit better. Test with a skewer or toothpick if you have no idea what a skewer is (I don’t – a long toothpick?)

Cool in pan on wire rack. This is better cold than hot, partly because it just is, and partly because the apricots form a pocket around themselves as they cook and inside that pocket they reach roughly the temperature of the sun and will remove your tongue and palate. When the cake is cold, those moist bits are a little tart and a little sweet, like the best apricot jam.

Perfect for after a barbecued hamburger and fresh corn, or maybe an easy morning breakfast with bacon on the side and a good English breakfast tea.

Summer is fleeting.  Taste every moment. Enjoy every encounter.

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Books & Brews at the Bakery (brewed tea, that is)

When I was a kid one of my favorite books for the sheer fantasy and magic was Humbug Witch by Lorna Balian. It seems to be somewhere between picture book and first reader, not quite either, with wonderful line drawings shaded with one or two muted colors.  It’s about a little girl who plays dress up all day. With her pointy hat and stripy socks, she’s a witch who casts spells and has a cat named Fred who follows her about, mostly looking perplexed or playing with things.  I loved it because it was the magic I longed to find in everyday life, the “walk around the corner and the world has changed” type things, the “open this door and behind it is stardust and wonder.”

Similarly, I fell in love with every scrap of magic I found in books, like The Blue-Nosed Witch by Margaret Embry, and The Little Witch by Anna Elizabeth Bennett, not to mention The Peculiar Miss Pickett by Nancy Julian and April’s Witches by Beverly Crook.  And of course Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There and The Phantom Toll Booth.

 

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This is my Grandmother’s 1916 Rand McNally & Co. copy, with illustrations by Milo Winter.

 

As an adult, I’ve just added another book to that list of magical getaways.  Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, basis of the SyFy channel’s series (which seems to be following along pretty closely, though we’ve only watched season 1 so far).

What I love is the time the author is taking to create a big fat real magical world with all the trappings and true-to-life characters so real that today I found myself thinking “No! Leave her behind! Don’t endanger yourselves for her!  I hate her!” about one of the characters (who you’re not supposed to like.)

I also love the magic that creeps into ordinary pages and the author either has wonderful and understanding editors or is never challenged to take it out.  I find when I say something flighty in a contemporary story or too flighty in fantasy that I’m usually asked to change it.  I love when magic like this is breathed into a book (and it reminds me to stick to my guns where my own fiction is concerned: no one knows what the next new and unique thing will be until someone writes it; if I’m lucky, I will be that someone).

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I’m an impatient reader.  There are an endless number of books I want to read, many of them lining the bookcases and walls of my office.  I’ll never catch up and I’m not sure I want to

But I’ve been reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman since early April.  It’s not the only book – not even close – but I keep it on the cluttered kitchen table and read it when I’m waiting for something to bake or cook or steep.  I’m reading anything from zero to 20 pages a day, because I absolutely don’t want to take any chances that I’ll rush it.

So deep summer at High Desert Bakery, I pulled out one of my Yixing clay teapots and headed to Safeway for loose tea because I noticed they had bins of it last time I was there.

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I love this Safeway – it’s in what strangely is a pretty strip mall in Sparks, off Vista Boulevard.  I may be prejudiced, because years ago my husband was foreman on the construction crew that did a lot of the remodel.  They put up the awnings, which still look good, and I remember they had endless trouble with the clock – it kept slipping sideways.  Time’s like that.

 

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The grocery store itself is pretty, with what looks like old-timey hardwood floors in the produce section and these lovely bins of dried fruit and teas.  To celebrate midmonth and summer and mourn it running out too fast, I picked up a couple teas and tried some dried kiwi, which I’ve never seen before.

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The kiwi is much better if gently reanimated with a little water – it’s also a gorgeous translucent green then.

This is the first of the teas I’m trying, raspberry passion black pekoe, with high caffeine and a wonderful taste.  I think I gave it a 5 minute steep, before joining it with the kiwi and The Magicians.  For another few carefully unrushed pages.

What are you reading?  And what are you eating with it if you eat while reading?  Any books you reread on a consistent basis and if so, what keeps them magical time and again for you?

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