Seasonal Flavors: Nelson County Apple Cake

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By Elena Day

One hundred years ago the eastern side of the Blue Ridge was terraced with apple and peach orchards.  Today one often observes rock piles in maturing woodlands, remains of terracing of steeper slopes.

October was the month the tastiest and longest-keeping apples were harvested. Albemarle Pippins, which local orchards are replanting, were renowned among these late apples even abroad.  Queen Victoria enjoyed our Albemarle Pippins in her palace meals.  So in tribute to our apple heritage (and in spite of contamination of acres of Albemarle County with lead arsenate, a heavily used pesticide back in the day)  an apple recipe is appropriate for October.

The following recipe was given to me by my roommate in 1974. She taught in Nelson County and a coworker shared her grandmother’s apple cake recipe with  her. It was always “so and so’s” Grandmother’s Apple Cake until I renamed it Nelson County Apple Cake.  The following is the original recipe. I include my changes at the end as I find the original a bit too sweet and gooey.

Nelson County Apple Cake

  • 1 ½ cups corn oil 
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups of sugar 
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 3 cups raw apple diced
  • 1 cup chopped nuts

Blend oil, sugar, slightly beaten eggs, vanilla.  Add flour that has been sifted with salt and baking soda, reserving 1 cup to coat apples, nuts and raisins.  Add floured apples, nuts and raisins.  Bake in tube pan for 1 hour or so at 325 degrees until knife inserted in cake comes out clean.

Topping: In saucepan melt 1 stick butter. Add ½ cup buttermilk (or condensed milk), ½ tsp vanilla,  1 cup sugar, and ½ tsp soda and boil rapidly for 2 minutes. Pour over cake. Let stand until cool or overnight.

I use only 1½ cups flour.  I reduce the apples to 2 1/3 cups.  I generally omit the topping.  If I do make the topping, I  use ¼ cup buttermilk, ¼ tsp vanilla,  ¼ cup butter, ¼ cup sugar, ¼ tsp soda.