Preserves in Action: Applesauce Cake

pint of applesauce

As we head into the beginning of the 2012 canning season, I’m trying to clear out some of jams, pickles and sauces I put up in 2011 (and if I’m being perfectly honest, there’s quite a lot from 2010 that I’m still working through too).

I know that for some of you, applesauce is one of the first things that you run out of. Around these parts, I struggle to move through it simply because I’m the only one who will touch it. It remains on my canning to-do list because I like to have it on hand. However, I still have half a dozen pints that need to be eaten and I know that apple season will be back before I know it. Time to take action.

applesauce cake

That’s where my mom’s applesauce cake comes in. Throughout my childhood, she made it for potlucks, on those nights when my sister or I had a school success to celebrate or even just when a jar of applesauce had lingered too long in the fridge. The taste of the batter and I feel like I’m seven years old again.

This recipe has a murky origin story. It was printed in the newsletter that my grandmother’s chiropractor published once a month. We don’t where it was a cake of his own creation or if he cribbed it from a cookbook and then failed to credit it. All I really know is that it entered my mom’s looseleaf binder of recipes when she was pregnant with me and has stayed with us ever since.

frosting applesauce cake

Part of why this cake became such as staple is that it’s easy. I make it in my stand mixer, but really, it’s sort of unnecessary. My mom has never had a mixer beyond a hand held one, and never pulled it out for this cake. She just stirred the batter together with a wooden spoon and still, it never took more than five or six minutes from beginning to end.

Its other virtue is that it’s sweetened with maple syrup (though now that maple syrup prices have gotten so high, it’s more of an indulgence than it once way) and uses homemade oat flour (blitz rolled oats in the blender and you’ve got oat flour). In today’s culinary language, that means that it doesn’t include refined sugar and is gluten-free (provided you use oats that aren’t processed in facilities that also process grains with gluten). Not bad for a quick little cake.

cream cheese frosted applesauce cake

You can either bake this cake in one large 9 x 13 pan or two smaller 8 x 8 pans. I like to divide it into two cakes, so that I can serve one and freeze the other for later. It also bakes more quickly in the smaller pans.

We rarely ate this cake frosted when my mom made it for the family (to sell her bare cake, she referenced the unfrosted cake that Tacy’s mother made in the Betsy-Tacy books. A huge fan of that series, my childhood self would happily accept the unfrosted slice when that comparison was made). However, for parties and events, it would be frosted with a homemade cream cheese frosting. Scott much prefers it frosted, but will accept an unfrosted square when there’s nothing else sweet in the apartment.

Do any of you have a family cake like this one? I’d love to hear your stories!

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New Classes! Philly! Portland! LA! Connecticut!


So, as you may have heard, I have a cookbook coming out (34 days and counting!). Because I want this little volume to be as successful as possible, I’m going to be doing a lot of traveling over the next few months in order to teach classes, sign books, demonstrate good canning technique and generally prove to you that this is an essential edition for home canners.

The days when publishers would send authors out on extensive, expenses-paid book tours are long over. The way I’m making my self-funded tour work is that I’ve scheduled both free events and paid ones in nearly every city I’m visiting. The demos and book signings will all be open to all, while the classes each have a fee. These classes are essential in ensuring that I’m able to cover costs. To that end, I’m asking that you guys help me get the word out. Sign up, tell a friend, post a tweet or write a blog post. Every little bit helps!

Know also that this isn’t the final schedule just yet. I’m still working on setting up classes in Eugene and San Francisco while I’m out on the west coast. For a complete list of my travels this summer, check out the page I’ve devoted to all things cookbook. That page includes the free events and happily, there are plenty of those.

Finally, I’m still working on classes for the east coast. I’m chatting with some nice folks about getting to Troy, NY, Baltimore and even up into Maine. So keep your eyes and ears peeled!

June 14: Strawberry lemon jam canning class at Kitchencru in Portland, OR. 6:30 – 8:30 pm.  Click here to register.

June 24: Stonefruit chutney canning class at The Farmer’s Kitchen in Los Angeles, CA. 5 – 7 pm. Click here to register.

June 30: Spiced nectarine jam and dilly beans at the Greenwich Historical Society’s Vanderbilt Education Center in Greenwich, CT. 1 – 4 pm. Click here to register.

July 1: Rhubarb chutney canning class at the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market in Coventry, CT. 2 – 4 pm. Click here to register.

July 21: Spiced blueberry jam and refrigerator pickle class at Create-a-Cook in Newton, MA. 10 am – 1 pm. Click here to register (link coming soon).

P.S. – There are also still lots of classes to be had in Philly. Click here to see the complete list.

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Progressive Canning Tools Giveaway Winner

Big thanks to everyone who took the time to enter the Progressive International canning tools giveaway last week! You guys are passionate about your canning equipment (as well you should be).

The winner is commenter #575, Jess from Krista and Jess (if you haven’t checked out their Jar Lunch feature, I highly recommend you click over and take a peek). Jess said:

The wide-mouth funnel makes my LIFE easier, not just my canning. I use it for almost everything. I have the ubiquitous silver funnel, but that head space measuring funnel seems pretty great, too.

Also, I realized recently that I never posted winners for the Korin knife sharpening giveaway (life gets away from me sometimes). The winners are commenter numbers 14, 43 and 70. I’ll be in touch with all the winners.

Finally, while we’re on the subject of giveaways, Mrs. Wages is currently hosting a Facebook sweepstakes in which they’re giving away a Presto pressure canner and some other good stuff. If you’re interested in entering (no purchase necessary), click here.


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Cookbook: The Homemade Pantry and The Nutty Granola Bar

Homemade Pantry, front and back

When I go into people’s homes, I can always tell which of their cookbooks are used regularly and which are more aspirational or someday volumes. The ones that fall into the category of “some day” have unmarked pages and perfect, smooth spines. The books that get used have dog-eared corners, splatters and stains. Particularly beloved books open to favorite recipes all on their own.

It is every cookbook author’s wish that their book becomes one of the spotted, bent and broken books. That means it’s being cooked from and that means we’ve done our job.

Homemade Pantry soup section

I see a lot of cookbooks and it’s a rare book that makes me want to immediately leap up, head to the kitchen, break the spine and start cooking. It happened last fall with the Bi-Rite Cookbook and again recently, with Alana Chernila’s new book, The Homemade Pantry.

If you don’t know Alana, she writes the lovely blog Eating From the Ground Up and lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband and two girls. I first encountered Alana when she introduced herself via email a year or two ago. We finally met in person last fall and it felt more like reconnecting with an old friend than it did an initial introduction.

Homemade Pantry tomatoes

Once you start reading The Homemade Pantry, you’re going to feel like Alana is one of your old friends too. That’s because her headnotes aren’t just headnotes. They’re full-on essays and they are glorious. Stories of her children, her own childhood and her community weave through the recipes. The book reads like a memoir that just happens to have good things to eat tucked here and there.

The best part of the headnotes is that they demonstrate how personal these recipes are to  Alana. They show that every single dish in this book has a reason for being there and is something that she feeds her family. You really can’t ask for a better endorsement than that.

car snack #3

I have long been someone who makes granola at home. There are multiple recipes for granola on this very site and several more in my cookbook (which is now just weeks away!). However, one thing I’ve never been able to get right is a homemade granola bar. I’ve tried so many recipes and they’re either too sweet, too dry or too fragile (and sometimes all three).

When I spotted the recipe for Car Snack 3 (The Nutty Granola Bar), I was tempted. While I don’t spend much time in cars and don’t have any little ones who need snacks, I like having something on hand for mid-afternoons when I can’t focus until I have a little nibble. I was entirely convinced to try them after reading this line, “If you, too, have been searching for the granola bar, try this one.”

pre-baked granola bars

Best of all, it was an easy recipe to follow. While the ingredient list is long, it comes together fast. I liked the technique it employs, too. She has you melt the fats (butter, coconut oil and nut butter) together with the sweeteners (sugar and honey).

Once they’re heated through and smooth in consistency, you stir in the rest of the ingredients and press into a parchment-lined baking pan. The parchment means that nothing sticks to the pan and it makes for easy removal once they’ve cooled.

granola bars in a jar

While I knew I could trust Alana to write reliable recipes, I am still blown away by these granola bars. They are, by far, the best homemade granola bars I’ve ever managed to produce in my kitchen. Yes, they are quite calorie dense, but so are any grocery store bar. And since I know exactly what’s in them, I feel no guilt or worry about having a small square as my afternoon snack.

a granola bar

So far, this is the only recipe I’ve tried from the book, but that fact that it worked so well and is so good means that I plan to turn to this book over and over again for my kitchen staples. I have a feeling my copy of the book is going to be totally stained and splattered within weeks and I know that Alana will be entirely pleased by that.

I’m not hosting a giveaway for this book, but Winnie at Healthy Green Kitchen is giving away three copies. If you want a chance at winning, head over to her site and leave a comment to enter. The recipe for Alana’s Nutty Granola Bar is after the jump.

Disclosure: Clarkson Potter gave me a free review copy of The Homemade Pantry. I was not compensated for this post and my opinions remain my own. 

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Reminder: Canning Classes at Greensgrow


Just a little reminder that I’m teaching a series of canning classes at Greensgrow, an urban farm located in Philly’s Fishtown/Kensington neighborhood. There is still availability in all these classes and at $35 a person, they are a bargain!

The first is a week from Saturday and we’ll be making pickled asparagus. I’d love to see some of you there!

April 21: Pickled Asparagus
12 noon – 2 pm
Click here to register

May 26: Strawberry Vanilla Jam
12 noon – 2 pm
Click here to register

July 7: Spiced Peach Jam
2 – 4 pm
Click here to register

October 13: Pear Vanilla Jam
12 noon – 2 pm
Click here to register

November 10: Apple Cranberry
12 noon – 2 pm
Click here to register

Classes are held at St. Michaels Church, 2139 East Cumberland Street. Enter at the blue door on the Trenton Avenue side of the building.

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New Canning Tools From Progressive International + Giveaway

new canning kit

When I teach canning classes, one of the first things I tell my students is that they don’t need a whole lot of special equipment to start canning. And truly, I believe it. During my first, tentative canning steps, I used tongs to move my jars in and out of the water bath and, horror of horrors, didn’t even use a rack in the bottom of my canning pot. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked.

lifter, lid wand and funnel

However, as so often happens when one specializes in something, my arsenal of canning tools has grown since those early days. Currently, it includes multiple wide mouth funnels, jar lifters, canning racks and variety of pots. Still, despite all the stuff, I mostly use the same wide mouth funnel and a jar lifter over and over again.

canning rack

Recently, my collection of equipment grew to include the new canning line from Progressive International. They’ve reworked some of the classic tools in an attempt to make them more useful and durable. The line includes jar lifter, wide mouth funnel with headspace markings, lid wand, reversible canning rack (one side holds four quart jars, the other secures seven pints, half pints and quarter pints) and scoop designed to easily get your products out of the bottom of the pot.


So far, I’ve found these to be perfectly useful canning tools. I like the lid wand and the funnel with its headspace markings is fun (and useful for beginning canners who are just starting to figure out how to estimate headspace). I don’t love the jar lifter because I feel like I have to apply a lot of pressure in order get a secure grip.

The canning rack is terrific, particularly if you’re like me and use a stock pot as your standard canning pot (though I’m still in love with my trivet as canning rack). It fits snugly in my preferred canning pot and I do like the security it offers the jars.

canning ladle

The canning ladle embodies a neat idea. It’s been developed to both easily get all the jam out of the pot while also delivering the exact amount to fill a half pint jar. Sadly, I didn’t find that it was that easy to maneuver and I still needed to use a rubber scraper to get the last bits of jam. I think I’ll continue to use my eight ounce measuring cup (like the largest in this set) and get the pretty much the same result.

Thanks to Progressive International, I have a set of these tools to give away to a Food in Jars reader. Here’s what to do if you want a chance to win.

  1. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post and tell use what one tool makes your canning process easier.
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm eastern time on Friday, April 13, 2012. Winner will be chosen at random (using and will be posted to the blog on Saturday, April 14, 2012.
  3. Giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian readers.
  4. One entry/comment per person, please.
Disclosure: Progressive gave me two sets of these canning tools; one to keep and one for this giveaway. My opinions remain entirely my own.