There are places in this world that have become embedded in my soul. Something about the history and atmosphere and architecture and general overall there-ness touches me and leaves a mark that can’t be erased. They aren’t always grand or spectacular; sometimes – rather often actually – they’re quiet and small and simple.
Christ Church, Frederica is one of those places. An historic church in the Christ Church Parish of St. Simons Island, nestled among giant live oaks and old crepe myrtles festooned with spanish moss, there is something magical about the gothic-style building and the cemetery grounds surrounding it. It’s quiet, peaceful, simple. You can feel the weight of history there.
We stopped here on our way back from touring a golf course. It was almost an afterthought – not a scheduled stop on our route. In fact, we were late getting back because so many of us couldn’t tear ourselves away. Our tour guide spoke to the abundance of churches on St. Simons Island, saying that he believed you couldn’t visit a place of such beauty and not believe in the existence of a higher power. You feel that here.
When you walk through the weathered wooden gate, surrounded by moss-covered red brick, you are struck by the serenity of the place. There are cars going by on the road just behind you, but somehow you are sheltered from all of that. The light filtered through the trees falls just so, dancing haphazardly in the breeze.There is unexpected beauty here – dried brown leaves on the roof of the entry gate, dappled sunlight through moss-covered trees, gray-green shingles and heavy wooden beams. Even the hint of a yellow leaf through the dried fronds of a fallen fern, with the bokeh created by the light coming through the trees above, takes my breath away.
As you walk among the tombs and gravestones, there are little tokens left by visitors. Some might even make you chuckle quietly to yourself. Rachel and I joked that Bo and Luke were laid to rest here. Irreverent? Maybe – but I don’t think we were the first to think it.
There are small surprises around every turn. These soft pink camellias were nearly hidden from view behind a large oak heavily draped in moss. Had I not been looking for treasures, I might not have spotted them. Sometimes I think my camera seeks out these little gems – like it’s leading me to capture fleeting beauty.
The interior of the church is just as lovely as the surrounding landscape. Every stained glass window is unique and the exposed-beam ceiling and warm-wood pews are a testament to the workmanship that must have gone into the construction of the building. This is a church that is well loved and well used. And it is still an active Episcopal church, with daily morning and evening prayer, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday Holy Eucharist services.As with many churches, The Episcopal Churchwomen of Christ Church put together a cookbook of their best loved recipes. Being a lover of church cookbooks, I couldn’t resist purchasing one while I was there. In many ways it is a typical church cookbook, with scads of casseroles, gelatin-based salads and more variations on brownies and pound cakes than you might think possible. There are some hidden gems, though – I especially like the chapter at the end titled “Men Cook, Restaurants, Olde Time”. There you’ll find a “Cure for Dysentery or Diarrhea” alongside “Martha Washington’s Boston Cream Pie.”
In determining which recipe to make first from the Christ Church cookbook, I knew I wanted something rather simple that would reflect the unexpected beauty found on the grounds and in the building. I adapted this apple cake from a recipe for “Apple Dapple Cake” by Mary Jane Flint, but I changed quite a few things along the way. The original sounds delicious, and it certainly inspired the cake you see above. But, if you want the original recipe, you’ll have to order a copy of the cookbook for yourself (all proceeds from the sale of the books go to help charitable organizations on St. Simons Island and worldwide).
Oatmeal Apple Cake
prep time: 10 minutes
bake time: 45 minutes
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 1 tsp soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup apple butter
- 1 stick butter, melted
- 3 eggs
- 4 cups apples, chopped
- Grease and flour a 10×18 inch pan and preheat your oven to 350F
- Whisk together dry ingredients
- Stir together the sugar, apple butter, butter and eggs
- Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients
- Fold in the chopped apples
- Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Serve plain or topped with unsweetened cream, creme fraiche or yogurt.
I’ve actually eaten this for breakfast every morning this week. With a cup of hot black coffee, it’s just what I want to start my day with. Mildly sweet, moist, full of autumn apple flavor – it’s reminiscent of baked oatmeal, but all grown up. There’s something really lovely about it – it’s beautiful in its simplicity. Unexpectedly so.
Father, we thank you for this meal, for our lives, for other people, for beautiful things, for goodness, and for You.
~Christ Church Cookbook