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In honor of Mother's Day, we're unearthing Heirloom Recipes and memories from our community members' moms all week.
My mom's small-town Virginia upbringing truly defined her, even after she moved away. Of all the skills required of a 1950s, post-war bride, the three she excelled at were interior decorating, cooking, and entertaining. These skills were put to frequent use after she married a Naval officer, which meant having to set up house in a strange new location every two years.
While my dad was at sea, she raised two children by herself, managing new schedules, schools, teachers, playmates, plumbers, and dentists—the list goes on. She wasn't so thrilled about all the moving, but she always embraced the new cultures and cuisines. Her cooking skills expanded as she learned from other Navy wives.
No matter where we lived, her favorite dish for entertaining was chicken (or shrimp) curry over rice, served with about eight condiments. For dessert, she usually chose to do something very simple. Her Applesauce Cake made frequent appearances.
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It was for one such occasion that my mom made a very uncharacteristic culinary blooper. I was about thirteen and just learning to cook. In between washing dishes, I watched as she put the finishing touches on her cake batter and slid it into the oven. Suddenly, she stopped in her tracks and looked confused. "I've forgotten something," she said, "but I can't figure out what it is." She looked slowly around the kitchen. "I know what it is! I forgot the applesauce!" Asking if one had "remembered the applesauce" became a joke between us. It frequently came up in reference to forgetting something obvious, like leaving the house without car keys, or forgetting ones purse.
When she did remember the applesauce, my mom loved this cake for two reasons: its ease of production and its moistness. While the recipe was a popular one in her time, she made it her own by adding her favorite nuts, pecans. In my adaptation of it, I've upped its nutritional value and added more texture by using whole wheat flour, dried fruit, and chia seeds. I added cocoa, among other spices, to deepen the flavor. My mom was a tough critic, but I know she would have loved this. I hope you will, too—just don't forget the applesauce!
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs, beaten lightly with fork
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup dried fruit (dark raisins, cranberries, and/or chopped prunes)
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, sifted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1 pinch cayenne
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups chunky tart applesauce
2 tablespoons chia seeds
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
Photos by James Ransom