Beth Botts and Heather Frey step up to the plate

September 2, 2012

I’m on vacation. Soooo…here’s Beth Botts and Heather Frey!

I have to take at least ONE Sunday off each year, don’t I? But I’m happy to turn the whole shebang over to garden writer extraordinaire Beth Botts and the ever-so-energetic Heather Frey, who returns to the scene of the crime.Technical assistant Denny Schetter completes the deal. I hope you’re listening this morning. I’ll be back next week.

Meanwhile, here’s Beth’s report on today’s show:

I’m hosting The Mike Nowak Show this morning

It’s been a busy summer, during which I have shamefully neglected many things, including this blog. As penance, I have to spend the Sunday morning of Labor Day weekend filling in for Mike Nowak on his gardening-and-greening radio show, the Mike Nowak Show , from 9 to 11 a.m. tomorrow, Sept. 2. The show airs on WCPT, 820 AM and 99.9 FM south, 92.5 FM west and 92.7 FM north. Heather Frey, formerly the show’s producer, will return to co-host.

Of course the big garden issue this summer has been the drought. Recent rains, including the remnants of Hurricane Isaac, may have taken the edge off, but that doesn’t mean we can forget about the effects of the blisteringly hot and dismally dry summer, especially for trees and shrubs. Doris Taylor, who runs the plant clinic at The Morton Arboretum, will be with us to talk about how we can help trees, especially, recover and how to care for them through the fall. (Full disclosure: I’m about to start a new job as a writer at the arboretum. I’ll still be freelancing and speaking on the side; learn more at

We’ll also hear about the Green Arts Show  starting next week in Evanston. Ideas about sustainability and the environment provide both ideas and materials for the artists in this show – last year the big hit was a portrait made from salvaged plastic bottle caps. Peter Athans and Anne Berkeley will be in the studio to give us the highlights.

Apple-picking time has come a little soon this year, another gift of our extreme weather. Fruit crops took a big hit from that bizarre week of 80-degree days in March and the survivors are ripening early. We’ll hear about the state of the apple crop from Wade Kuipers, whose family has a farm and you-pick orchard in Maple Park, out west of Aurora.

Sitting in for the goofing-off Rick DiMaio to deliver the gardener’s weather report will be Patrick Skach, who contributes climate data for the National Weather Service and the College of DuPage Meteorology Department.

What about Mike? He’s out West, doing some filming for his TV show, Dig In Chicago, in Denver and hiking in the Dakota badlands and I don’t know where else. He will be back, no doubt snakebit and sunburned, next week.

If you have a comment or a garden question during this week’s show, please call in while we’re on the air at 773-763-9278 (773-763-WCPT for those who like to get cute with phone numbers). Or you can tweet at @mikenow or to me at @chicagogardener. I’m especially looking for apple memories and ideas from listeners. Apples are strongly associated in my mind with the change of seasons — at least they were, back when fruit had seasons and apples weren’t shipped in from Chile in June. We would pick apples every fall when I was young; my mother was fond of piling all the kids in the station wagon several times a year for rambling fruit and vegetable foraging expeditions all over northern Indiana and southern Michigan. There used to be a lot more family-owned orchards and fruit and vegetable stands where you could buy or pick many different varieties of not only apples but plums, peaches, nectarines and pears.

One favorite dessert in my family is a simple, moist, fruity apple cake, almost more apples than cake, that was one of the first things I learned to bake. Since it can be mixed up in a large bowl by a small child with a wooden spoon (as long as a grownup dices the apples and handles the oven part), it has long been a gateway recipe in my family.

My mother, Lee Botts, has a vivid memory of learning to make apple cake in the middle of a huge dust storm in Oklahoma in 1936 or 1937 (drought summers are not a new thing), stirring it in a bowl with a wooden spoon, with sheets covering the windows and dust blowing in under the kitchen door. We think my great-grandmother probably brought the recipe when the family moved from Missouri to homestead in Oklahoma at the turn of the 20th Century.

The recipe has changed a bit: We no longer peel the apples – the bits of peel add flavor and color and maybe even some vitamins — and we’ve reduced the sugar.

Use firm, not-too-sweet, flavorful apples, not candy-sweet ‘Red Delicious’ or mushy ‘Macintosh.’ I use ‘Jonathan’ apples whenever I can get them. Jonathans are my favorite all-purpose apples for their perfectly crisp texture and intense flavor, bright and spicy and not too sweet, but they are not the best keepers. Sometimes I use a mix of apple varieties.

It’s a good idea to make this in a heatproof glass pan if you’re not going to eat it all right away, because if you make it in a metal pan and it sits a while, the acid in the apples will cause both the pan and the cake to discolor.

The recipe  doubles just fine in a 9-by-13-inch pan. I’ve also been known to bake it in paper-lined muffin tins, like cupcakes; that’s a good way to take it to the office or for potlucks. Also good for breakfast.

Apple cake From Lee Botts and her Rutledge family forebears

Preparation time: 45 minutes Baking time: About 30 to 40 minutes Yield: One 9-inch-square cake pan

1 cup flour 1 teaspoon each: baking soda, ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves 1/2 teaspoon each: freshly grated nutmeg, salt 3/4 cup sugar 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, softened 1 egg, beaten 1 teaspoon vanilla 2 1/2 cups unpeeled, cored, diced apples
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and salt in a bowl; set aside. Beat sugar and butter with a mixer on medium speed (or use a wooden spoon and a large bowl) until creamy. Add the egg and beat until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla.
2. Add 1/4 cup of the dry ingredients to the mixture, beating just until mixed. Repeat with remaining dry ingredients. Stir in the apples. The batter will be quite thick. Spread the batter in a buttered 9-inch-square pan. Bake until cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 to 40 minutes, usually, depending on your oven. Cool in pan on a rack. Cut in square or rectangular pieces to serve.