I read the other day that there are 7,500 varieties of apples grown around the world, and 2,500 of those are grown in America. I find these numbers mind boggling! How can there be so many different apples and why do we need so many different varieties? When did the red shiny apples of my childhood become obsolete?

I always loved the story of Johnny Appleseed. I had this vision of a lanky man going around with a sack of apple seeds on his back, just tossing them out randomly so travelers could pick an apple along the way. I was pretty sure he was responsible for all of my shiny, red apples. I was disheartened to learn that John Chapman, the real "Johnny Appleseed," was actually an entrepreneur who strategically bought land, planted nurseries and then left them to be tended by a neighbor while he went off and started another nursery elsewhere. He would return periodically to check on the nurseries until the trees were well established then sell off the trees and the land around them, giving the friend/nursery keeper a portion of the sale as payment for taking care of them. The legend I so loved also left off the fact that the apples he planted were not edible, but were used to make hard cider - the high-octane kind. He never planted one red shiny apple tree.

My fondest memory of apples comes from my Grandma Underwood's kitchen. The apple tarts she fried every Christmas are legendary, but what I loved most was the big jar of apple butter she would pull out of the refrigerator to spread on toast that she toasted under the broiler. Grandma went to be with the Lord 41 years ago, and I still am taken back to her kitchen when I smell apples cooking.

Grandma would find today's produce section amusing. I don't know what type of apples Grandma used, but it was probably whatever apples were sold at the local Piggly Wiggly. Recipes and cookbooks now tell us the "best" apples to cook with. I don't know if Grandma used the right apple to cook with - but she sure knew how to make apples taste good! I have made apple tarts and have made apple butter, but they just aren't Grandma's. Maybe what's really missing is my Grandma, not the flavor.

I am now a grandmother and I hope that my grandchildren will remember my kitchen as fondly as I remember my grandmother's. They may never know the joy of a fried apple tart - but maybe they'll like my Apple Dumplings (which are much easier than apple tarts!) and perhaps, a slice of Fresh Apple Cake will always remind them of me.


Teri Bell is co-owner of Miss Sophie's Marketplace at the Mighty Eighth in Pooler. Go to sophiesmarketplace.com.


Fresh Apple Cake with Caramel Frosting

2 cups + 3 tablespoons Sugar

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 ½ cups vegetable oil

3 large eggs

3 cups chopped Granny Smith (or your favorite) apples

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped pecan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 10-inch tube pan or bundt pan. Combine 3 tablespoons of the sugar and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon and coat the inside of the pan with the mixture by shaking the pan all around until the sides and bottom are coated.

Beat oil and the remaining 2 cups of sugar with an electric mixer until well blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. With a spatula, stir in the apples and vanilla. Sift together the remaining 2 teaspoons cinnamon, the nutmeg, flour, baking soda and salt. Add the flour mixture to the apple mixture and mix well with a spatula. Add the pecans and stir. The batter will be very thick.

Bake for 1 ½ - 1 ¾ hours until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to rest on the counter for at least 30 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack with a sheet pan under it. Pour Caramel Frosting over cake and allow to cool before slicing


Caramel Frosting

When you add the baking powder to the frosting it froths up and will run all over your stove if your pot is not large enough.

1 stick butter, melted

Small can of evaporated milk

1 box light brown sugar

1 tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

Stir melted butter, sugar and milk together in a large saucepan. Heat slowly until mixture comes to a boil. Add baking powder and vanilla. Cool slightly and pour over cake.


Apple Dumplings

2 large apples

2 (10 ounce) cans crescent rolls

1 cup butter

1 ½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 (12 ounce) can Mountain Dew


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10x13 pan with cooking oil. Core apple and slice each apple into 8 slices. Separate crescent rolls into triangles. Roll one apple slice into each crescent roll and place in pan. In a medium saucepan, melt butter, stir in sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Pour mixture over dumplings. Pour Mountain Dew over dumplings. Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown.