Simple Pleasures are the Best - Mrs. Fischer's Apple Torte

Re-purposing this old post in order to share a simple, seasonal recipe. As we begin apple season, otherwise known as Fall, there are many wonderful things we can cook, eat, share that highlight apples. Apple, celeriac, turnip

I highly recommend Amy Traverso's Apple Lover's Cookbook. Watch Amy's quick tip for how to peel an apple here. If you're not quite ready to let go of summer, try the apple cucumber pickle. Perfect bridge to Fall. Meet Amy, get her book and enjoy a 3 course meal inspired by it for only $45 pp. - such a deal! Call Tavolo for reservations to this special dinner.

Here's the post from 2006, when the Joy of Cooking celebrated its 75th birthday with a revamp and some hand-wringing. If cooks are getting less skilled, I say start simple. The recipe that follows could not be easier. With a little prep, you could make it with a young child and begin to teach simple cooking skills and words.

And this post marks a small announcement from me. I've resigned my post at Suite101 where I penned the Gourmet Food column for something like 6 years. It was a terrific way to begin my credentialing as a 'food writer' back when I was brand new at it. Now it's time to give that opportunity to some other new up-and-coming writer and to focus my attention on other things.

In the next few weeks, I'll be recycling a post or two when I think it might be a fun or interesting one that you may have missed. I hope you enjoy them.


Happy 75th Birthday Joy of Cooking

Whether She's Worse for the Wear is Your Call

Nov 2, 2006 Jacqueline Church

Editorial dramas, culture change, dumbing down. You name it, this cookbook has survived as much as any 75 year-old. And what's a squirrel or two among friends anyway?

I've never felt the desire to cook a squirrel. But, should the opportunity present itself, I know where I would turn for advice: The Joy of Cooking. Sure enough, it's right there on page 515, complete with diagrams showing how one might skin the thing should it arrive in your kitchen um, how should we say, fresh.

The Joy of Cooking is one of the most popular cookbooks ever published. 18 Million copies sold since its 1931 debut. Over the decades, this straightforward cookbook has been the kitchen bible of choice to many novice cooks. If I need to confirm a general outline of something I've not made in ages, this is where I go first. I've never had to deal with turning a squirrel into dinner, but if I were to find myself in such a predicament, well you get my point.

Over the years, changing tides of culture and editorial opinions have resulted in different versions of this venerated reference for cooks. Some are not happy with the most recent changes. I hear there are even recipes that call for canned condensed soup in this edition. I would rather see a recipe for bechamel than instructions to add a can of cream of mushroom soup. Whatever the flaws, general consensus seems to lean toward the favorable and I, for one, have a copy on order.

Dumbing down

This November marks this celebrated 75th anniversary. Planning this special edition, debates raged about the necessity of "dumbing down" the instructions.The result was the inclusion of a detailed glossary. This caused a lot of buzz in the publishing world, including coverage in the Washington Post . Reporting in March, the Post included the results of a brief survey and let us in on the ranks of horrified editors and consumer product kitchens.

Bottom line: most of us don't know how to cook and the majority of us wish we did. The frenzy over how to make gravy, how to roast a turkey, - all or at least a lot of the Thanksgiving panic can be attributed to general lack of kitchen knowledge. According to the Post, people no longer know even simple terms such as “dredge” “sauté” or even “simmer” or “sear.” Can it be true that someone actually greased the outside of a pan when following instructions to “grease the bottom of a pan?”

The dwindling knowledge of kitchen terms and techniques has been apparent to cookbook editors long before Joy of Cooking’s birthday. Betty Crocker Kitchens, Land O’ Lakes and Kraft kitchens, it turns out, have been simplifying recipes for years. When ‘creaming butter and sugar’ became too confusing for consumers, Land O’ Lakes kitchens had to rewrite the instructions to read ‘using your mixer, beat the butter and sugar.’ I wonder if they have to tell someone to crack open the egg before adding it?

How is it that our collective culinary knowledge has plummeted even while the Food Network and food culture has been on the rise? What are the causes of our collective kitchen incompetence? Editors and consumer product staff blame too many working mothers, too few home economics classes in schools, and the rise of computer games, among other things. Maybe that’s why I turned to Mastering the Art of French Cooking in latch-key afternoons. Come to think of it, this was in prehistoric times and we had no computer. No, this seems a little simplistic to me.

A tsp. of hope, or is that TBSP?

A survey by Kraft reveals some sad contrasts: while 94 percent of children aged 10-17 could access the Internet only 42 percent could cook a spaghetti dinner. Only 44 percent knew three teaspoons equal one Tablespoon. So where’s the glimmer of hope? 64 percent said they’d like to help more with cooking at home.

Let’s light a candle, rather than curse the darkness.

  1. Get into the kitchen. Yours, a friend’s, an adult- Ed program’s – doesn’t matter. Just do it.
  2. Make sure your schools offer Home Economics. With the explosion of the “SuperSized” population, the increase in obesity, epidemic rates of Diabetes, there should be no question that the ability to cook a basic, healthy meal at home is an essential life skill. Cooking classes in school are also fun! I will never forget how many boys were hanging around our classroom on the day Miss Mosser taught us how to make Snickerdoodles.
  3. Cook with friends. Almost everyone has at least one dish they are happy to make for friends. Why not create a cooking together party theme? Rotate through each others’ kitchens with the host sharing a favorite recipe. Cooking with friends can be far more entertaining than simply eating in an expensive restaurant. Even flops can be fun. After all, you’re building a shared history with friends. Remember to keep a sense of humour and you’ll be fine.
  4. Give a recipe along with a treat or a utensil for a Holiday gift. Spiced nuts with a recipe and a spice grinder; your favorite chocolate truffle recipe along with a batch and a melon baller for scooping the chocolate or next summer’s melons. How about a super simple and delicious lunchbox cake?

From Dee Dee’s lunchbox to you

One of my favorite recipes came from the mother of a girl in my junior high school. We weren’t even friends but one day ended up eating lunch next to each other. She shared her mother’s “apple torte” with me. I loved it and asked her for the recipe, never expecting to get it. (She was a cheerleader, I was somewhere nearer the other end of the popularity spectrum.) Dee Dee brought me that recipe and I think of her fondly every time I make it, and every time I share the recipe.

This is really easy to make, a great one for cooking with kids and teaching simple skills, like creaming butter and sugar. I made this two nights ago, and added some colossal California raisins which worked well.

Mrs. Fisher’s Apple Torte


  • 1 C sugar
  • 4 TBSP butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 C flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ nutmeg
  • 2 C finely chopped apples
  • ½ C finely chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1 tsp vanilla


  1. Cream butter, sugar and egg well.
  2. Sift dry ingredients and add to sugar/butter/egg mixture.
  3. Add apples and nuts.
  4. Bake in large buttered pie pan @ 350 degrees for 35 – 40 minutes.

The Joy of Cooking 75th edition, makes a great gift for a new bride and groom or recent grad. Right now, Powells Books has it listed for less than I paid for the 1995 edition.


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I think the addition of Chinese Five Spice Powder would be great here. Or, my new favorite baking spice: Cardamom.

Please try it out and let me know what you think.