In my book, there’s an old family recipe for applesauce cake on page 22. It was one of my great grandmother’s special Christmas recipes. Secretly, it’s a fruitcake, which she soaked in wine to preserve it. But since there are so many negative associations with fruitcake to really do it justice, I chose to keep the original non-offensive version of the name. Nobody likes fruitcake, but everyone likes applesauce!
The recipe runs as Appalachian Whiskey Applesauce Cake because of the dessert’s Virginia mountain roots and my tendency to replace the wine with bourbon (my great grandfather was from Kentucky, right over the line, so it still seems culturally appropriate). When I make this cake for the holidays, I leave out the pound of candied fruit called for in the original recipe and instead use a heavier hand with the nuts and dried fruit. I have a loaf ripening in the pantry as we speak, and it’s going to take everything I’ve got not to dip into it before Christmas Eve. Especially since I had to unpackage it and unwrap the boozy cheesecloth in order to snap this photo. And then it seemed like the photo would come out so much better if I cut a slice. One thing led to another and, well, the proof is in the photo: the cake did not return to the pantry unscathed. To eat a slice is a spiritual moment for me, a strange, hypnotic connection to a past so wholly different from my own.
Or maybe it’s just the Maker’s Mark talking.
Anyway, in the headnotes of the recipe in WINTERSWEET, I mention that I have a photo of my great grandmother (Ethel Price Hunt) getting ready to go on a squirrel hunt, holding a big gun. I recently came across that photo, so here it is along with another of her in flapper attire. She cleans up nice!