Warm apple pie cake topped with vanilla ice cream
Years ago Joe picked up The New York Times Heritage Cookbook from a remainder book sale. It sat on the shelves untouched for a very long time, until one night, searching for a simple dessert, I cracked it open and discovered a whole world of American comfort food and heirloom recipes.
The book was originally published in 1972, and I don't think our 1995 edition is substantially different. It's organized by region (Northeast, South, Midwest, Northern Planes/Mountain, Southwest, Northwest), with each region further divided into appetizers and soups, fish, meats, etc. The author interviewed hundreds of home cooks over some five years and out of the enormous collection of recipes that resulted, choose what she felt were the best of the best. If you have the impression that American food is all the same, this book quickly dispells that notion. Yes, there are common elements, but each region also has its own character. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this collection is how well it brings out the way immigrant recipes interacted with the local foods in the different regions they settled. Some are recipes brought by immigrants from their homelands, others, like shoofly pie, are local inventions with a long American culinary history, and others are more recent creations.
This isn't trendy food. This is home cooking of the type found at potluck church dinners, farmers' markets, 4-H shows, and small town festivals all across America.
But that one night I was looking for something simple to do with apples, and I found this Apple Pie Cake recipe that has been a favorite ever since. This is a sweet, rich, extremely moist cake that almost turns "caramelly" on the bottom. The basic recipe calls for cooking it in a pie plate, but you can also cook it up in a muffin tin or mini-soufflé dishes (see image).