Anyone who watched PBS television cooking programs in the late 1980s and early 1990s will remember Marcia Adams.
Her program always began with lively music and scenes from the American heartland that included horse drawn carriages, children playing in fields and winding country roads.
The set of her cooking segments was backed by quilts that hung about the dining area adjacent to the kitchen where she cooked. At the end of each half-hour program and after Adams pulled whatever luscious dish out of the oven she featured that episode, she would walk into the dining room and stand beside a beautifully created quilt. Adams would then take a few minutes to discuss the quilt pattern and its history.
Tribune Chronicle / Kathleen Evanoff
Apple cake is the perfect dessert this time of year when apples are abundant and the best varieties are in season. This is a favorite recipe of the Amish community and this particular recipe is a favorite of cookbook author Marcia Adams, who wrote, ‘‘Cooking from Quilt Country,’’ and other Midwest cooking cookbooks.
In some episodes, she would travel to various farms and local businesses, including herb farms, maple sugar makers, and Mennonite and Amish communities.
And then one day the programs ended and I wondered what happened to Adams and why PBS wasn't making any more episodes.
Later I read in a magazine that Adams had been diagnosed with heart disease in 1994, which her doctors said was caused by a respiratory virus. She was forced to end her cooking programs in 1999, but even a little heart disease couldn't keep her down.
1/2 cup shelled pecans
2 large cooking apples, such as Granny Smith or Northern Spy (I used Honeycrisp)
1/2 cup butter (one stick), softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 scant tsp. grated nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose flour
Fresh apple slices
1/2 cup (one stick) butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup evaporated milk
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Chop pecans finely, then set aside. Peel, core and chop apples to equal two and one half cups. Use a food processor to chop apples into medium-coarse pieces, about the size of your thumbnail. Set aside.
In a large mixer bowl, cream the butter. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the egg, soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the flour and stir just until blended. Stir in the apples and nuts.
Pour into an oiled 9-inch round cake pan and bake for 30 minutes or until the top springs back when touched lightly in the center with your finger.
While the cake bakes, prepare the sauce. In a saucepan, melt the butter, brown sugar and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring with a whisk, then remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla and milk. (The sauce can be made in advance but should be reheated over hot water).
To serve, ladle two to three tablespoons hot caramel sauce onto eight serving plates. Cut the cake into eight wedges and place on top of the sauce. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream and two thinly sliced apple wedges, peel left on.
The cake should be served warm. It can be reheated in the microwave, or at least served at room temperature.
In 2001, Adams had a heart transplant and PBS was there to film the procedure. After her recovery, Adams began a new career educating women about the dangers of heart disease. Her documentary, "Marcia Adams: Change of Heart," was aired worldwide on PBS and BBC television stations in 2002. I was saddened to hear of her death in February at the age of 75.
The companion book to Adams' PBS series, ''Cooking from Quilt Country: Hearty Recipes from Amish and Mennonite Kitchens,'' is one that I take down from my shelf quite often, especially this time of year when cooler weather brings us off the patio and back into the kitchen.
Apple cake with hot caramel sauce is one of my favorite recipes from the book, and from the condition of my copy, it's obvious I've made several. It takes very little time to put together and most of the ingredients are probably already in our kitchens this time of year, especially apples.
Adams' recipe calls for Granny Smith or Northern Spy apples, but I used my favorite medium-tart apple, Honeycrisp, and the cake was equally as good. Cooks may notice there is no moisture other than one egg used in the recipe. This is because there is enough moisture in the apples to compensate and the cake comes out extremely moist. The batter is similar to muffin batter. It is thick and has to be spread into the pan. Although Adams' recipe calls for a nine-inch round cake pan, I used a 7-by-11-inch glass baking dish, which called for an additional five minutes of baking in my oven.
The hot caramel sauce is the perfect accompaniment to the warm cake, and the cake should be served warm for the best flavor. It reheats just fine in the microwave.
The cake keeps well, up to a week in the refrigerator, according to Adams' recipe, and although she wrote that it gets better with age, it has never lasted long enough in our house to test that theory.