Monthly Archives: December 2012

Granny Aggie’s Apple and Orange Cake

My paternal grandmother always hosted Christmas Eve supper for our family. She cooked for days in preparation of that meal. I’m sure we had the usual turkey, dressing, and all the sides, but what I remember most are the desserts. Granny Aggie made sure everyone had his or her favorite on that night.

She made chocolate pies, butterscotch pies, lemon pies, and pecan pies. There might have been an egg custard on one of the countertops, too. She baked a chocolate cake, a caramel cake, a coconut cake—all for five adults and five children.

The dessert bounty was enormous and delicious, but the cake my daddy and uncle looked for was her apple and orange cake. It had been my grandfather’s favorite Christmas cake, and his sons followed in his footsteps.

No one else in the family really cared for the light brown cake with tiny flecks of red apple skin dotting the surface. Who would when creamy chocolate or caramel icing dripped from multiple layers just a cake stand or two down the line?

I’m not sure how this cake came to be the Christmas cuisine highlight of the Toler men. Maybe it had something to do with having oranges only in winter, and they were special because most everything else on the table was either from our garden or from our pastures. Who knows? All I know is that the apple and orange cake is a Christmas tradition in our family, and last night at our Christmas Eve Eve celebration, the first dessert Quinn asked for was a piece of my mother’s apple and orange cake. The tradition is safe for another generation.

Just in case you’re interested here’s my grandmother’s recipe. I’ve searched for on-line recipes, but none that pop up are our cake, so maybe it really is Granny Aggie’s Apple and Orange Cake.

4 Red Delicious apples, grated—The year I made this cake when my mother was recovering from open heart surgery, I used two Granny Smith apples in place of two red apples. The red and green flecks looked festive, but Granny used only red.

4 medium-sized oranges, grated—I know from reading recipes and watching cooking shows that you’re supposed to grate only the orange rind and leave out the white pith, but that’s not how Granny did it. To be accurate, start grating and don’t stop till you get to your fingertips.

*Unfortunately, a food processor doesn’t yield the perfect consistency of grated fruit that a box grater does. Make sure you’ve had adequate sustenance or someone to tag team you before you start. Grating eight pieces of fruit is a workout.

Mix the grated fruit with about one cup of sugar. Use this mixture to ice yellow cake layers. Prepare this cake a day earlier than you want to serve it and store in the refrigerator.

Good luck with the grating!


Praying for Newtown

Instead of writing about another Christmas recipe, today—as I have for the past several days—I’m thinking about the tragedy in Connecticut. I don’t know anyone in Newtown, but my sadness and horror is sharp for all of those involved—the children who heard the massacre, the terrified teachers who tried to protect the children, the EMT workers and first responders who saw unspeakable images of carnage, and the heartbroken parents, family members, and friends who are left behind.

So many times over the past weekend, my mind has time traveled to Hance Elementary in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, the school my children attended. As a homeroom mom for most of those seven years, I volunteered regularly in the classrooms, helped plan the seasonal parties, chaperoned field trips. I can imagine exactly the festive decorations—Menorahs and Christmas trees and wreaths—set up around the school. I can see the jolly outfits that first graders love to wear. I remember the trembling excitement as the children count down the days till vacation.

And my heart is breaking, too.

I’m also reminded, however, that I serve a mighty God. I believe that He is “close to the brokenhearted” Psalm 34:18 and that He “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” Psalm 147:3. That’s how I’m praying for the people in Newtown—for healing, peace, comfort, help, and strength. I’m praying against bitterness and fear. I’m praying that the children and first responders will overcome the sights and sounds of that morning.

I’m praying that this will be the last time we have to face a tragedy like this one.

Christmas Carol Favorites

Christmas carols have been streaming out over the airwaves since the Monday before Thanksgiving. I don’t really mind because I love them. A friend of mind always reminds me that radio stations proclaim the birth of Jesus Christ for a whole month—and everybody sings along. A good thing, right?

Here are some of my favorites in no particular order:

1. Silent Night—I love playing this one on my piano. This is one of the few songs that I add notes to the left hand. The first time the notes happened was a serendipitous event. I didn’t plan to play the notes; my fingers just added them to the ones printed in the hymn book. Sweet experience. I especially like David Crowder’s rendition of this classic carol.

2. O Holy Night—This song seems holy in its own right to me.

3. Go Tell it on the Mountain—For the longest time, I thought this was simply a children’s song. It’s not. It’s gorgeous, particularly the James Taylor and David Crowder versions. Here’s David Crowder’s link.

4. Some Children See Him—This song brings tears to my eyes almost every time I hear it. I heard it first on James Taylor’s Christmas CD.

5. I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s words are beautiful and knowing that he was grieving his wife’s accidental death and his son’s tragic wounding in the Civil war when he wrote them adds to their beauty. The Casting Crowns’ arrangement is BEAUTIFUL. If you’ve never heard that one, treat yourself.

6. What Child is This?

7. Good Christian Men Rejoice

8. Hark, the Herald Angels Sing—I like that it’s featured in It’s a Wonderful Life.

9. Joy to the World—Years ago, the church I attended used this song as an incentive to donate to the Christmas fund. Whenever the amount given reached a certain dollar amount, we’d get to sing so many notes. Yes, we’d have to stop right in the middle of a measure if we hadn’t received the necessary amount to sing the notes. FRUSTRATING.

10. We Three Kings of Orient Are—The Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan version is really special.

11. And here are a few more that I love to play on the piano: It Came upon the Midnight Clear, Gentle Mary Laid Her Child, Away in a Manger, and O Come, All Ye Faithful. I’m sure I’m leaving out some great ones, but this is a pretty good start.

Just for fun here are some of my secular favorites:
1. Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
2. Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas
3. Rocking Around the Christmas Tree
4. Up on the Roof Top
5. Here Comes Santa Claus
6. Winter Wonderland
7. Jingle Bells
8. Silver Bells
9. Silver and Gold
10. I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

Did I choose one of your favorites? What do you like to listen to at Christmas?