A Swoopy Ginger-Apple Cake Perfect for Bundled-Up Fall Days

With the prettiest pink applesauce(!) frosting.

October 22, 2018
Photo by Julia Gartland

Lately I’ve been feeling particularly homesick (as the many family memories in my last article clearly show). It’s a ticking clock with me—I was last home with my family at the end of May, and every week that passes by gets me more and more antsy for another visit.

I’ve struggled with true, honest-to-goodness homesickness since I first left Kansas to attend pastry school at 18. Though it’s been thirteen years since I’ve lived there, I’m a deeply nostalgic person, and am very rooted in my first home. When I first went away to college, I’d tear up every time the plane landed in Kansas, and even more so when it would take off back to New York.

The worst bout of homesickness came when I was on my externship between my first and second year of school. I lived and worked on Block Island, a remarkably pork chop-shaped island off the coast of Rhode Island. I was younger than most of the staff and was one of only a few people who worked early morning hours. I felt like I didn’t fit in.

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My (wonderful) pastry chef and I worked alone making the desserts for most of the summer, and I didn’t have too much social contact outside of our daily chats about food and music (we both liked to sing while we worked). I was pretty miserable and pretty awful at hiding it. I called home constantly. My parents, sister-in-law, grandma, and friends sent me snail mail and care packages to cheer me up; I had to upgrade to a bigger P.O. box mid-summer. I spent my days off by the water, taking long walks, biking (truthfully, I’d love to do it again now, given the change). The island was beautiful, but I was terribly lonely.

Photo by Julia Gartland

When I was finally back at school, my homesickness wasn’t quite the same—I was newly grateful for my family away from family, and those close relationships with friends and my longtime partner have helped ease the in-between stretches quite a bit. I’ve become remarkably good at being homesick, which is to say, I still think of home everyday, but usually it’s a good thing, a pleasant trip down memory lane, then it’s back to the present (no harm, no foul).

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Top Comment:
“Autumn is a beautiful, bittersweet season that always brings memories of my long ago home. Thank you for sharing.”
— Jamie

Still, the clock keeps on ticking. Eventually, my cup overflows, too much time passes, and I’m the bad kind of homesick again. Suddenly, a voicemail from my mom and niece can bring me to tears in under 10 seconds. A text from my cousin floods me with the instant need to buy a plane ticket. Sometimes, I miss specific things—walking past the old houses in our neighborhood when the leaves were changing, driving the long way out to visit my grandma, coming home to toothy-grinned kids playing in the living room. No matter how “used” to living somewhere else I get, that feeling is still always under the surface. It can become overpowering, where I can no longer keep my emotions in check.

I’ve become remarkably good at being homesick.

When I feel really homesick, I turn to the kitchen. Certain recipes from my mama’s kitchen can take me there: her baked potato soup brings consistent comfort, and her fluffy scones flecked with semisweet chocolate can curb any turn for the worse. Recently, I can’t stop thinking about the pink applesauce she often makes in the fall. I love the way that leaving the skins on adds tartness, thickens the texture, and of course, lends its lovely hue.

The dreamiest pink swoops. Photo by Julia Gartland

I channeled it recently, then cooked it down further to reduce liquid and make it thicker and smoother, more like apple butter. It was so thick and spreadable (and again…that color…) that I thought it could easily be a yummy, fruity substitute for frosting. So I whipped up a light and fluffy, extra gingery cake, and slathered it in the pretty pink apple butter. It wasn’t the perfect cure for homesickness, but it made my kitchen smell a lot like my mom’s does this time of year—and, for now, that’s a pretty good fix (until I can get myself a flight, anyway).

What do you make to remember home? Share your favorite recipes in the comments section below!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Aoife McE
    Aoife McE
  • Jamie
I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, Savory Baking, came out in Fall of 2022 - is full of recipes to translate a love of baking into recipes for breakfast, dinner, and everything in between!


Aoife M. October 28, 2018
Have you ever made a sheet cake version? Looks gorgeous!
Jamie October 23, 2018
Autumn is a beautiful, bittersweet season that always brings memories of my long ago home. Thank you for sharing.