First Batch of Pumpkin Spice Fixin’s

It’s a weakness.

I mix it in my coffee and in pancake batter. I’ll continue to make it through at least January. Recipe, here.

If you make a batch of it, be sure to buy your vanilla at Sam’s Club or Costco; the recipe calls for a full cup and that stuff is expensive!

Mary McAskill’s (1853-1931) Apple-Orange Cake

Apple-Orange Cake

My great-grandmother, Mary McAskill, made this simple four-layer cake at Christmastime because she had its main ingredients, oranges and dried apples, on hand. My grandmother, Ruth McAskill Hagler, also made this cake. My father, Buddy Hagler, started making it when I was a teenager. He dried his own tart, green apples from a tree that grew in the backyard. I found four-years worth of dried apples, pre-measured for future cakes, in Dad’s freezer chest when I cleaned it out after he died.

I continued the tradition of making the apple-orange cake with those dried apples until they were gone. Now, I use dried apples from The Apple Barn. It’s important to use dried apples for this recipe, and not the more common evaporated apples. It’s hands down my favorite cake. I especially like it with a side of ambrosia.

  • 2 cups dried apples (not evaporated)
  • 3 cups fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups sugar
  • 1 box Duncan Hines yellow cake mix, or make a 2 layer yellow cake from scratch (I prefer the mix.)

Cook the dried apples in 4 cups of water until tender, about 30-40 minutes. Use an immersion blender, Foley mill, or sieve to puree the apples. Addthe orange juice and sugar and cook on medium heat until thick, about 40-50 minutes.

As soon as the two cake layers are cool enough to handle, split them with a bread knife or with dental floss. Evenly distribute the apple-orange sauce between each layer while they are still warm. When you get to the top layer, keep piling on the sauce. The sauce will begin to stick to the sides of the cake as it cools. Use a narrow spatula to scoop the icing onto the sides from around the bottom of the cake.

Keep refrigerated.

The Christmas Tradition That Must Not Be Repeated

Several years ago, I thought it would be smart to find something to cook for breakfast that I could make in advance for Christmas morning. I wanted breakfast to be more than the regular fare, but also something that wouldn’t take a cook away from the gift-giving festivities. The solution? Porridge cooked overnight in the crockpot!

The recipe consisted of whole grains: pearl barely, oatmeal, wheat germ, and who knows what else. The concoction cooked on low in the crockpot all night, and by morning, the convenient, healthy, and inviting Christmas Porridge had become sticky, tasteless, inedible Christmas Gruel. I promised the kids I’d never serve it again. And so, the Christmas tradition that must not be repeated was born.

Here’s how it works. Each year on Christmas eve, the adults in the family take turns making something to eat (not necessarily a breakfast food). The only rule is we can’t make the dish again, even if we like it. Over the years we’ve had:

It’s my sister’s turn this year. She introduced us to stackers—chocolate wafers (like you eat with ice cream) layered with red and green colored cool whip. YUM!


Figgy Pudding


Figgy Pudding:

  • 2 package(s) (8 ounces each) dried Calimyrna figs
  • 1 3/4 cup(s) milk
  • 1 1/2 cup(s) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup(s) sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon(s) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon(s) ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon(s) ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon(s) salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup(s) (1 stick) margarine or butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 1/2 cup(s) (3 to 4 slices white bread) fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon(s) grated orange peel
  • Marzipan fruit and greens, for garnish

Brandied Hard Sauce:

  • 1 1/2 cup(s) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 cup(s) (1 stick) margarine or butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoon(s) brandy
  • 1/2 teaspoon(s) vanilla extract


  1. Figgy Pudding: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 1/2-quart metal steamed-pudding mold or fluted tube pan.
  2. With kitchen shears, cut stems from figs; cut figs into small pieces. In 2-quart saucepan over medium-low heat, cook figs and milk, covered, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally (mixture may look curdled). Be careful not to let mixture boil.
  3. Meanwhile, in medium bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt.
  4. In large bowl, with mixer at high speed, beat eggs 1 minute. Reduce speed to low; add margarine or butter, bread crumbs, orange peel, and warm fig mixture. Gradually add flour mixture; beat until just blended.
  5. Spoon fig mixture into mold, smoothing top. Cover with sheet of greased foil, greased-side down. (If your mold has a lid, grease the inside and do not use foil.) Place the mold in a deep roasting pan and place on oven rack. Pour hot tap water into roasting pan to come 2 inches up side of mold.
  6. Bake pudding 2 hours or until firm and it pulls away from side of mold. Remove pudding from water bath; remove foil and cool on wire rack 10 minutes. Invert onto serving plate; remove mold. Garnish with marzipan fruit and greens. Serve warm.
  7. Brandied Hard Sauce: In small bowl, with mixer at medium speed, beat confectioners’ sugar, margarine or butter, brandy, and vanilla extract until creamy. Refrigerate if not serving right away. Makes about 1 cup.Nutrition information given is for one serving pudding without Hard Sauce.

Sugar Plums

  • 2 cups whole almonds
  • 1⁄4 cup honey
  • 2 tsp. grated orange zest
  • 1 1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1⁄2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup finely chopped dried apricots
  • 1 cup finely chopped pitted dates
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 400°. Arrange almonds on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast in oven for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool, then finely chop. Meanwhile, combine honey, orange zest, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl. Add almonds, apricots, and dates and mix well.

Pinch off rounded teaspoon-size pieces of the mixture and roll into balls. (Rinse your hands often, as mixture is very sticky.) Roll balls in sugar, then refrigerate in single layers between sheets of waxed paper in airtight containers for up to 1 month. Their flavor improves after ripening for several days.

Makes 75 sugar plums.