For someone who spent little time in the kitchen, my grandmother, Hanna (she’s in slacks; her sister is on her left), wrote down and saved a lot of recipes. Neither she nor my grandfather liked what they termed “fancy food.” Instead of spending time in her galley-style kitchen in Richmond, Virginia, she sat for hours at her telephone table in the hall. There, she called or wrote notes to a wide circle of family and friends scattered from her hometown of Mount Vernon, New York to Richmond. Her recipes come from many of these friends or from the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper, which she spread out every morning with her tea-and-toast breakfast – once she tracked down her reading glasses.
She didn’t write down who gave her this basic baked apple recipe but it suited her plain tastes. I added a bit of cinnamon and lemon juice to the apples to give them more flavor. The syrup benefited from a little brandy, nudging it perhaps perilously close to “fancy food” territory, but just right for my 21st century sensibilities.
Hanna Mann’s Butterscotch Apples (circa 1930)
Core as many apples as wished. Do not peel. Fill each cavity with brown sugar and place a lump of butter on top of each apple. Place in a rather deep cake or pie pan, put in water about ½ inch deep and add enough brown sugar to make a syrup. Bake in a moderate oven. Serve plain with syrup or whipped cream. A few nuts may be added to apples.
4 apples, cored but not peeled
Approximately 6 tablespoons brown sugar
4 teaspoons chopped nuts, such as walnuts or pecans (optional)
2 tablespoons butter
Juice from ½ lemon
Cinnamon, for sprinkling
Approximately ½ cup water
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the apples in baking pan or pie dish with at least a two inch tall rim.
2. Mix together the nuts, if using, with 4 tablespoons of the brown sugar. Spoon the plain brown sugar or brown sugar mixture into the cavity of each apple. You may need to adjust the quantity of sugar depending on the size of your apples so you fill each cavity.
3. Place 1/2 tablespoon of butter on top of each apple, centering it over the cavity.
4. Sprinkle all the apples with lemon juice and cinnamon.
5. Pour water into the bottom of the pan so it comes ½ inch up the sides of the apples. You may need to adjust the quantity of water depending on the size of your pan.
6. Place the additional 2 tablespoons of brown sugar in the water and use a fork to break up any big lumps. The sugar will dissolve as the apples cook. (My syrup was kind of thin so next time, I would add another 2 tablespoons of brown sugar to the water).
6. Bake 1 ½ hours, or until the apples are soft and a syrup forms in the bottom of the pan. (I thought the syrup was too thin so I put it in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons of brandy, and let it gently boil for 10 minutes to reduce it a bit and give it more flavor).
7. Serve each apple topped with syrup or whipped cream.