Those that know me as well as a few long time readers and listeners to the old Columbus Foodcast Podcasts know that my father moved to Honduras in December 2008. Before he left, he moved in with me for four months so we could finish untangling several snarls he had in his life. In that short period of time we managed to tie up a lifetime of loose ends so he could move on with nothing left undone behind him. We unturned a lot of stones and made a foundation for a good bridge for him to travel over on his new adventure. Unfortunately, his life in Honduras went to shit very quickly.
My dad died on Fathers Day of this year while I was speaking with him on the phone. I had hoped it was just the phone that died….but he did too. The year prior to his death was very stressful for both of us and after many false alarms and failed attempts to get him home I felt some relief that he was at peace and no longer trapped in a bad predicament he could not untangle himself from.
Due to the situation in Honduras I was not able to travel safely to tend to his remains. I could not get a death certificate released to me either so I was unable to write an obituary marking his passing. I still run into people who wonder what Crash is up to (um, well….not much). His tombstone is a small name plate on the bar at El Dorado (a notorious North Clintonville watering hole) with his nickname – Crash – it was placed in his honor when he left the country.
The calm between the storms was the time that he lived with me. Before he left, we spent December 2008 making apple cakes and working on tweaks to allow him to make the cakes in Honduras with a few recipe substitutions. He had a usually had hard time finding satisfactory black walnuts in Columbus (and that was with my connections and sleuthing abilities) so we tried variations with different nuts so he could adapt it to his new life in Central America. I made the recipe with him several times so I could confirm all of the ingredients, scrutinize special “secret” techniques he used in its creation and to help him refine anything that might make the making or baking process easier. We had a good time in the kitchen. It was my duty to get the recipe to paper so he could share it with his friends by delivering an apple cake to each with a recipe included as he said goodbye to Columbus.
The apple cake was my father’s Christmas tradition. I can’t recall a Christmas without several in various stages of production or consumption on the kitchen counter. The amount of time and effort he spent producing forty or more of these cakes in the weeks preceding Christmas was impressive. He was proud of his creations and like Santa, he was very careful about making his list and checking it twice by making sure that the cakes went to those that were best of the naughty and the most sincere of the nice. The ritual of apple cake deliveries was something to quietly enjoy from a distance. If you got one, then you were worthy of a whole cake and if you were not deserving – he would tell the person why. We did not have much in common but the trait we both shared was that we do not suffer fools gladly. (I am a bit more diplomatic – my silence is usually the best indicator for the disdain I feel for a person).
The great apple cake breakthrough occurred in 2004 or 2005 when Crash found smaller bunt pans which allowed him to quadruple production while making a slightly more flavorful cake in less time. It was at this point that the cake list expanded to a couple of people who may not have rated one in years past. I am not sure if this was due to mellowing with age, a Grinch like change in his attitude towards “dilberts” or an intervention by one of his entourage. My inclination, is that he just had an overproduction of product and some recipients were getting “seconds”. While it was the act of giving that made the strongest impression on most people, the cake was good enough that people started inquiring about their delivery status in September. The cakes were simple looking and came wrapped in tinfoil, they won no points for presentation but they did win for having a lot of heart in them. For a few it was like getting a trophy: “Hey Earl, I got one of Crash’s apple cakes!!!!!”
In honor of my father and his holiday tradition, I share his apple cake recipe with you. Those that knew him are encouraged to buy lottery tickets on your way to search for black walnuts. If you can’t find them, try using cashews in a pinch.
Sharing this recipe is the most fitting eulogy for Crash. If there is an afterlife, I hope he is sitting at a bar with Mr. Cross, Big Red, Brooa-the and Coach with Duke growling under the stool.
Apple Cake Recipe
1 ½ cups of vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups cut (finely diced) apples (Jonathan, Rome or McIntosh)
1 cup black walnuts
Blend: oil, sugar, slightly beaten eggs, salt, baking soda and vanilla
Use ½ cup of flour to coat apples and walnuts
Fold floured apples and walnuts into mix
Bake in floured and greased bunt pan for 1 hour and 45 minutes – for 2 cakes 1 hr and 35 minutes
Temperature: 325 degrees
½ cup buttermilk
1 stick butter
1 cup white sugar
½ teaspoon of vanilla
½ teaspoon of baking soda
Mix ingredients in sauce pan, heat to boil, stir constantly
Boil 2 minutes
Poke multiple holes in the cake – pour topping over cake
Let cake sit 1 to 1 ½ hours
Large Bunt – 10 x 3 ½ – 1 cake
Small Bunts – 8 x 2 ¾ – 2 cakes
(writer’s note: I researched a eulogy vs. an eulogy….”a” won).