The Coolest Small Town in America, Berlin, Maryland once beckoned the baking expertise of my namesake grandmother. She would bake a multitude of these cakes to sell and people in the community would come by and pick them up for a small fee. I also remember my father telling me his close boyhood friend sent his new wife to her for cooking lessons shortly after they were married. The name for this recipe, Mother’s Improved Applesauce Cake, was handwritten on her original copy of the recipe. Even though I added the Craisins to the recipe for a bit more Christmas color, the recipe remains in its original form. Obviously its roots extend back into a different century. How far back though is unclear. Now keep in mind, my fondest cooking and summertime memories were made in my grandmother’s kitchen and perhaps without her knowledge, she passed on her legacy to me. Hopefully I can do the same with my grandchildren. They love to help when I make anything for them, especially the little guy Weston who is two.
Jane, my grandmother, didn’t cook much when she became ill; I was about 11 . During my formative years, I was obviously quite impressionable. I would run or ride my bike down the path that extended between our homes after she called to see if I wanted to lick the bowl. I couldn’t get there fast enough!( All of us did that with this batch during and after our preparation. Yum!) I still remember the aroma of these cakes baking and licking the bowl as well as the Land O’Lakes butter wrappers. I won’t use anything else but that brand to this day because of this ! She creamed everything by hand in a rather large pan followed by the other ingredients. Perhaps this was the quantity that she was making at a time. The black walnuts came from the tree in her back yard as well as from Mrs. Parsons. I remember picking out black walnuts from the shells. I don’t know if she made or bought the applesauce. In the past, when I had the time, I made my own applesauce sauce when making this recipe.
The night before, or a few hours before, I prep the fruit mixture. The raisins, currants, and Craisins were placed in a glass bowl then covered with water. This plumps up the fruit to help make the cake more moist. This is drained before adding to the cake batter.
The applesauce is blended with baking soda over night as well. It fizzes little bit and as my sister remembers, it was added to darken the color of the applesauce which affects the color of the cake. This didn’t change the color like I remember, since I used jarred applesauce which has citric acid in it to preserve color. Our outcome was still a little brown, but not quite like I remember. Next year, I will make applesauce from scratch to see if it changes color.
My sister and I arranged some sister time this year to continue the legacy along with two of my grandchildren, Emma and Weston. The pictures below are from this day of making a double batch of memories.
This is Emma, my little kitchen elf, creaming the butter and sugar.
Weston, little Bo-Bo, is often the overseer of all things mixed. Here he’s scraping down the bowl before we add the eggs and vanilla. From the looks of his face, he’s already been taste-testing.
Add the applesauce to the creamed ingredients, blending well. Follow up with adding the dry ingredients which have been whisked together to evenly incorporate the spices within the batter.
We took the bowl off the KitchenAid and emptied its contents into a much larger bowl before adding in the fruit and nuts. The watermelon rind had to be purchased at a local produce market. I had hidden my own sweet pickled watermelon rind in preparation for this day, HOWEVER, someone (who shall be nameless) discovered my stash and I had to use someone else’s 🙁 It was chopped finely using a food chopper. Since my recipe for sweet pickled watermelon rind is spiced with cinnamon and cloves like mWeston is here with his sister mixing in the fruit, black walnuts and chopped watermelon rind. They actually help me measure. We also do a lot of counting while we are adding ingredients and talk about fraction relationships. The math teacher in me can’t ignore the opportunity to show math’s real-life tasty applications.y grandmother’s, it adds a little more seasonal zing, There’s always next year!
Weston is here with his sister mixing in the fruit, black walnuts and chopped watermelon rind. They actually help me measure. We also do a lot of counting while we are adding ingredients and talk about fraction relationships. The math teacher in me can’t ignore the opportunity to show math’s real-life tasty applications.
This is the best finger-licking batter ever, just ask my sister! Personally, it’s like going back to my childhood in a time machine to my grandmother’s kitchen where I was encouraged to taste what you’re preparing for others to eat. Oh, yum!!
I used various baking dishes to test baking times as well as appeasing the eyes. Here’s the selection used.
These mini bund pans are the cutest things! I made Pina Colada Zucchini Bread in these this summer. Here they were filled with about 1/4 cup of batter and they took about 22 minutes to bake. You don’t want them dry; they need to be moist !
Regular cupcake pan with festive cupcake liners held a little more batter and took about 25 minutes
This is a larger bundt pan(6) and a small loaf pan.
I know I’ve succeeded in recreating Mother’s Improved Applesauce Cake when my oldest brother texts after I dropped one off to his home for him and his wife to enjoy and says , “Felt like I was back at grandmom’s house; thanks new grandma!”
Serves: 7 mini-loaves
- ¾ c. butter, softened
- 2 c. sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2 c. unsweetened applesauce or homemade applesauce
- 2 t. baking soda
- 1 T. vanilla
- 4 c. flour
- 2 t. cinnamon
- 1 t. cloves
- 1 t. salt
- 1 t. baking powder
- 1 c. black walnuts, finely chopped (See notes:)
- 1 c. currants or golden raisins
- 1 c. raisins
- 1 c. Craisins- This is not part of the original recipe, but works well and adds seasonal color.
- 1 c. pickled watermelon rind, diced small (* optional if you can't find it)- See notes below.)
- The night prior to making this, I prep a couple of ingredients. Using a whisk, blend the applesauce and baking soda evenly in a glass bowl. This helps the applesauce turn darker which affects the color of the cake. It will fizz at first when added.
- Stir together currants, raisins and Craisins to evenly distribute. Cover with boiling water and soak overnight or until plump. Pour into a strainer to drain excess water before using in recipe.
- Cream together butter and sugar.(My grandmother used to do this by hand according to Aunt Shirley.)
- Add eggs; blend in vanilla.
- In a separate bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, cloves, salt and baking powder.
- Toss about 2 T. of the flour with the walnuts to coat them. Stir about ½ cup of the flour mixture with the currants, raisins and Craisins.( I put them into a Ziploc bag and shook them. )
- Add flour mixture into creamed mixture.
- Blend in nuts, soaked(and drained) fruit mixture along with the chopped watermelon rind.
I have added drained crushed pineapple in place of the sweet pickled watermelon rind which turned out well as a replacement.