Friday, 11 January 2008

Apple cake a la Amrita (Κέικ με μήλο)

Maybe it is a bit of nostalgia that makes me turn to my old New Zealand recipe books. But that's not all. Now that I am far away from my birthplace, I realise how ahead of the times NZ was, despite its lack of ancient culture its now highly globalised New-World society. While a student at Victoria University, some of my fellow students were vegetarian. Their motivation was mainly humanitarian, in that they were against animal cruelty, they expressed an aversion to eating dead animals and they had a heightened awareness of their existence in the world, way ahead of their Old-World counterparts. Like all good Kiwi citizens, I showed interest in what they had to say, and even tried to apply some vegetarian principles in my daily diet. What didn't occur to me at the time was that in our house, since my mother strictly observed all the Greek Orthodox Church fasting periods throughout the year, we actually were vegetarian at various times of the year: 50 days before Easter, 40 days before Christmas, 15 before the Assumption of the Virgin in August, as well as some single days of the year to respect a saint or a special event in the Church calendar (eg St John the Baptist, commemorated on August 29).

In the Wellington of the '80s, vegetarianism and an interest in healthy eating were propagated by all sorts of institutions. I remember the Meat Board advertising trim pork, leaflets with recipes using tofu, and Victoria University's Salient magazine with recipes like "Tomato Walnut Casserole". Who will forget the Mt Victoria Cafe (I lived up the road from it) with their queues extending round the corner up Queen St to eat barley rice pilaf, vegetable cottage pie and macadamia beans? There were columns written in the newspaper about how to get started in vegetarianism; here's what Anne Doornekamp has to say about it (from an article in the Dominion - found among the bits and pieces of yellow-aged newspaper clippings I carted with me when I moved to Greece):

... find out where your nearest health food shop is. Spend time browsing among the shelves at the different kinds of beans, grain and seeds... buy a simple recipe book... decide when you want to try your first vegetarian meal... find a recipe that appeals... choose a recipe which is simple, as your future confidence depends on the success of your first attempt."

Vegetarianism must have been a kind of "nouvelle cuisine" in the mid-80s, judging by comments such as those! My favorite progressive vegetarian outlet was the Organic Food Co-op, located at the time in a rundown area of Wellington, close to the red lights district. I even became a member of the co-op, working once every two months as a volunteer, I told my parents about the idea behind the co-op, but as usual, they simply scoffed at the new age thinking their daughter was propunding in the household: whoever heard of anyone who can survive their whole lives without eating meat? They needn't have worried about their daughter being seen in a forbidden district, as it was a Greek no-go area. I never came across any of my fellow Greek Wellingtonians whenever I was in the area. Which led me to think: "Am I the only weirdo?"

One of my friends had baked an apple cake for one of the Linguistics Department social nights (from which you can imagine the revelry our academic interest group imparted) and I asked her for the recipe. She gave it to me, and, as all good academics, she refered me to the source of the recipe: the AMRITA cook book, AMRITA being the first vegetarian restaurant in downtown Wellington. I bought the book - 100 pages, hand-written, each page illustrated in a unique way - and tried a great many recipes from it. The restaurant eventually closed down, but Wellington still abounds in vegetarian-interest cafes and eateries. One recipe became a firm favorite with my family: Christine's apple cake, which I'm making for a family friend tonight. It's just one more positive way (as for apple pie) to use those bad Greek apples that we buy here ...

You need
1 1/4 cups brown sugar (you can use white sugar equally well, but use LESS than the stated amount - it is sweeter and heavier)
2 eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large apples diced
1 3/4 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinammon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Beat the sugar, eggs, oil, vanilla, cinammon and nutmeg together till well blended. Add the apples, and mix them into the batter. Aift in the flour and baking soda. Mix well. Baked in an oiled tin. I used a ring tin, the very same one we used to use to make this cake in New Zealand (it's travelled a long way!) because this is a 'heavy' cake, so it tends not to cook in the centre. I lined the ring tin with baking paper to be on the safe side, as apple pieces tend to stick to the bottom of the tin if it is not greased well.
This post is dedicated to CV.

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