A Well-Traveled Applesauce Cake

May  6, 2015

In honor of Mother's Day, we're unearthing Heirloom Recipes and memories from our community members' moms all week.

Today: LE BEC FIN updates her mother's recipe for applesauce cake.

Applesauce Cake

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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.

My mother's favorite dish for entertaining: Chicken Curry.

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.

More: Have guests? Here are 5 tips for entertaining on a budget.

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!

My Mom's and My Applesauce Cake

Serves 12

1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
cup white sugar
large eggs, beaten lightly with fork
tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup dried fruit (dark raisins, cranberries, and/or chopped prunes)
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
cups white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, sifted
teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
pinch cayenne
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
cups chunky tart applesauce
tablespoons chia seeds
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Chef Lisa
    Chef Lisa
  • lapadia
  • AntoniaJames
My eating passions are Japanese, Indian, Mexican; with Italian and French following close behind. Turkish/Arabic/Mediterranean cuisines are my latest culinary fascination. My desert island ABCs are actually 4 Cs: citrus, cumin, cilantro, cardamom, and GARLIC! I am so excited by the level of sophistication that I see on Food52 and hope to contribute recipes that will inspire you like yours do me. I would like to ask a favor of all who do try a recipe of mine > Would you plse review it and tell me truthfully how it worked for you and/or how you think it would be better? I know many times we feel that we don't want to hurt someone's feelings, but. i really do want your honest feedback because it can only help me improve the recipe.Thanks so much.


Chef L. May 10, 2015
Love the story...we've all done similar, haven't we?
lapadia May 6, 2015
Don't forget the applesauce, it! ;)
AntoniaJames May 6, 2015
Lovely essay. My mother's applesauce cake - which I made frequently as a teenager - was one of my favorites. So glad to see this makeover. Must try!! ;o)