Awesome Autumn Desserts From Our Past

Written by Debra Daniels-Zeller

Written for The Vegetarian Resource Group


Cool autumn days often send me retreating to the kitchen to recreate comfort desserts from the past. Memories of my grandmother’s kitchen linger in my mind, and I can almost taste her sweet-tart apple pie. A frugal cook, she used sweetened, seasonal, or dried fruits, and often combined them with what was on hand – leftover rice, bread, or cookies. She grew up on a Kansas farm with a tradition of farm cooking – using simple ingredients to create delicious comfort foods.

These days I’m challenged to recreate the same flavors without dairy or eggs and with a much lower fat content. This usually means being more creative in the kitchen. When trying to alter a traditional recipe, I make small changes at first. Replacing the cow’s milk is as easy as substituting plain or vanilla soy or rice milk. To get a buttermilk flavor, add ½ to 1 Tablespoon lemon juice or rice vinegar to your soy or rice milk and let the mixture sit five minutes before using. Eggs are next in line to be replaced. An excellent egg-replacer for cakes, quick breads, and biscuits is flaxseed egg-replacer. Like eggs, this mixture give a bit of lift as well as a binding quality. (You can buy flax seeds at any natural foods store. Keep them in the refrigerator or freezer until you are ready to use them to preserve their natural oils.) For every egg to replace, measure 1 Tablespoon flax seeds. Grind them in a spice mill (or use a clean coffee grinder) until they resmeble a coarse meal. Then, using a hand blender or standing blender, whip them with three Tablespoons water until the mixture is thick and foamy. (A hand blender works best, as it can easily blend small quantities.) Add this mixture when the recipe directs you to add eggs. I have successfully replaced up to three eggs in baked goods.

Along with eggs, fat is sometimes a tricky ingredient to tinker with. Fat contributes flavor as well as texture in your desserts. Hard fats like butter and shortening make a pie crust flaky and give a fine, smooth crumb to biscuits and cookies. If a recipe calls for butter, I first try halving the amount called for and substituting soy margarine. If the first revision works well, the second time around I may try canola oil or half oil and half margarine. If you take all the fat out at once you end up with a dry cake or rock-hard biscotti. However, if you prefer to cut all the fat out, try one of the commercial fat replacers on the market such as Wonderslim, which is made from pureed prunes. You can find Wonderslim in the baking section of your natural foods stores. Another consideration when reducing the fat is making sure to enhance the flavor of your dessert with sweet spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom, or ading a bit more vanilla or maple syrup.

Ideas for recipes below came from various regional church recipe publications (available at yard or tag sales), Wagon Wheel Food on the Oregon Trail by Jacqueline Williams, and, of course, my grandmother’s kitchen. So, what are you waiting for? Start cooking, and while you’re at it, bring a bit of nostalgia into your kitchen.

Sour Cherry and Applesauce Brown Betty

(Serves 8)

There are numerous versions of Apple Brown Betty, each having a slightly different character, depending on additions, alterations, and regional inflections. Crumbs used are often bread crumbs combined with butter, but sometimes crushed cookies or graham cracker crumbs are used. In this recipe, I’ve found that graham cracker crumbs are a nice complement to the sour cherries. If you can’t find dried sour cherries, use dried cranberries or dried sweet cherries.

  • One 24-ounce jar unsweetened applesauce
  • ½ cup dried sour cherries
  • ½ cup sugar (vegan granulated sweetener)
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom (or use ½ teaspoon cinnamon and ½ teaspoon nutmeg)
  • 2 medium-sized apples or pears, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 12 medium graham cracker squares, crushed into fairly uniform crumbs (about 1 ¼ cups)
  • 2 Tablespoon soy margarine, melted (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blend the applesauce, dried cherries, sweetener, and cardamom. Set aside. In another bowl combine the apples or pears and lemon juice. In a 2-quart casserole, spread ⅓ of the graham cracker crumbs, ½ of the applesauce mixture, and ½ of the apples or pears and lemon juice blend. Repeat layers. You will have ⅓ of the graham crackers left. Combine this with 1 Tablespoon melted soy margarine for a browned and crispier topping, if desired. Sprinkle the last of the graham cracker crumbs over the top and press down lightly. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

Total calories per serving: 193 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 43 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 107 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Cranberry-Raspberry Slump

(Serves 6)

The awesome combination of fresh cranberries and frozen raspberries creates a sweet-tart flavor. New England is the origin of this old-fashioned, simmered fruit dessert with sweet dumplings. Each person gets a dumpling or two with the steaming fruit served over the top. Do not use a cast-iron skillet for this dish, as the acid in the fruit will draw out too much iron and give your dessert a metallic flavor.

  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 2 cups frozen raspberries
  • ⅓ cup orange juice or juice of 1 orange
  • ½ cup vegan granulated sweetener
  • 1 Tablespoon arrowroot
  • 1 Tablespoon Grand Marnier liqueur (optional)


  • ⅓ cup vanilla soy or rice milk
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or use barley flour or unbleached white flour)
  • 2 Tablespoons vegan granulated sweetener
  • ½ Tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • Zest of 1 orange (about 1 Tablespoon)
  • 2 Tablespoons cold soy margarine

Combine cranberries, raspberries, orange juice, granulated sweetener, arrowroot, and Grand Marnier, if desired, in a heavy skillet. Mix well. Simmer for 5 minutes. While fruit cooks, prepare dumplings. Blend soy or rice milk with lemon juice. Set aside. In a medium mixing bowl combine flour, sweetener, baking powder, baking soda, and orange zest. Mix well, making sure there are no small lumps of soda or baking powder. Cut in soy margarine until mixture has a mealy consistency. Add the soymilk-lemon mixture and stir untl a batter forms. Do not overmix. The batter will be fairly thick. Drop heaping teaspoons of the batter onto the fruit mixture, going around the outside of the pan in a circular pattern until you reach the middle. Most, but not all, of the top should be covered with small dumplings. Cover and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until dumplings are done (when a toothpick inserted comes out clean). Serve dumplings in individual dishes with the hot fruit sauce spooned over them. Add a dollop of frozen vanilla soy or rice dessert or a nondairy frozen whipped dessert topping, if desired.

Total calories per serving: 297 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 63 grams Protein: 3 gram
Sodium: 198 milligrams Fiber: 7 grams

Rum Raisin Rice Pudding

(Serves 8)

Puddings and pies were popular desserts made by pioneer women crossing the Oregon Trail in wagon trains. They were a welcome treat at the end of a long day. According to Wagon Wheel Kitchens: Food on the Oregon Trail by Jacqueline Williams, puddings were made of a mixture of rice or bread, milk, eggs, or fruit, and were probably baked like pies. To bake pudding or pie, the dessert was placed in a baking dish inside a Dutch oven (a large cast iron kettle with a lid), which was set in a bed of coals with coals heaped on the top. This is a much easier stove-top vegan version of an all-time favorite rice pudding.

  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice, rinsed (Basmati or short grain brown rice
  • ½ cup raisins, divided
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup soy or rice milk, plain or vanilla flavor
  • ⅓ cup maple syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons rum (or 1 Tablespoon vanilla if you don’t want to use rum
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 to 4 Tablespoons toasted, ground walnuts or pecans (optional)

Soak the brown rice and ¼ cup raisins in the water for 8 hours before cooking. Combine water and soaked rice and raisins, soy or rice milk, maple syrup, rum, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour or until grains are done. Puree pudding in a blender or food processor until fairly smooth but not completely creamy. (Leave some chuck of rice in the pudding.) return to pot and add remaining raisins. Heat on low until pudding is rhe desired consistency. Serve garnished with ground nuts, if desired.

Total calories per serving: 208 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 39 grams Protein: 4 gram
Sodium: 168 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Tart Apple Kuchen

(Serves 6)

My husband’s grandmother from Germany had a favorite kuchen recipe that she passed on to my mother-in-law. I didn’t get the recipe, but I like the idea so much I played around with it until I got a decent vegan version. The cake is traditionally made with eggs, but I found silken tofu makes a nice binding ingredient and works well in this recipe. This can easily be made with peaches, nectarines, or blueberries, too.

  • 3 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1.2 tablespoon arrowroot (or cornstarch)
  • 1 ¼ cups whole wheat pastry or barley flour
  • 1 teaspoon each: baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon
  • ¼ cup cold soy margarine
  • ½ cup silken tofu
  • ⅓ cup soymilk
  • 1 Tablespoon vegan granulated sweetener with ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon blended in (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 12-inch pizza pan. Place apple slices, lemon juice, maple syrup, nutmeg, and arrowroot in a bow and mix until the arrowroot is dissolved. Let sit while you prepare the crust. In a medium bowl combine flour, ⅓ cup sweetener, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Mix thoroughly, making sure there are no small lumps of sweetener or baking soda. Cut in the soy margarine with a pastry blender or fork, mashing and mixing until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Set aside. Place the tofu and soymilk in another container and, with a hand blender or mixer, whip them together until creamy. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid mixture. Mix with a spoon until a soft dough forms. The consistency you want is somewhere between a cake batter and brownie mixture – a little too stiff to pour and too sticky to pat out. Scrape the batter onto the pizza pan, and with lightly oiled fingers, spread it evenly to the edges of the pan. (The dough will stick to your hands if you don’t oil them a little.) The crust will be thin. From the center out lay the apple slices flat in a circular pattern, very close together, going around until the whole top is covered with apples. Sprinkle with the cinnamon sweetener, if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. The crust will be brown around the edges. Remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes. With a large spatula, carefuly remove from pan and place on a cooling rack.

Total calories per serving: 253 Fat: 9 grams
Carbohydrates: 42 grams Protein: 4 gram
Sodium: 391 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Gingered Fruit Compote

(Serves 6)

Compotes are simple desserts made with ffresh or dried fruit cokked on the stove-top or baked in syrup. During the fall and winter, I use dried, organic gruit from summer’s harvest instead of resorting to the off-season, tastless gruits taht are shipped in from long distances. sicne th gruit need to be rehydrated, it should be saoked overnight or all day. This ginger-spiked compote is good on its own, or it creates a sublime dessert when used as a topping for frozen vanilla soy dessert such as Soy Delicious.

  • 12 ounces frozen apple, peach. or mango-peach juice concentrate
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons grated ginger (plus juice if any, reserved)
  • 3 cups assorted dried gruit (peaches, pears, figs, nectarines, apricots, mangoes, or cherries)

Combine the juice concentrated and water. Blend well. Squeeze the juice from the grated ginger into the apple or peach juice. (Use more ginger for a stronger ginger flavor.) Pour the blended juice over the dried fruit in a ceramic or glass baking dish, and let the fruit sit overnight or for about 10 hours in the refrigerator. Bake, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, basting occasionally. The fruit will be very soft when done.

Total calories per serving: 283 Fat: 1 grams
Carbohydrates: 70 grams Protein: 2 gram
Sodium: 26 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

Bourbon Baked Pear Crisp

(Serves 8)

Usually made with a crispy topping but no bottom crust, these popular fruit desserts are often topped with whipped cream or ice cream Today we have soy or rice-based frozen desserts as well as frozen vegan whipped toppings to choose from. Just about any kind of seasonal fruits go well under thise crispy topping. To prevent a watery filling, add 2 Tablespoons arrowroot or cornstartch to a fruit mixture with a high water content such as blueberries.

  • 1 cup uncooked oats
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry or barley flour
  • ¼ cup vegan granulated sweetener
  • ½ cup finely chopped or ground almonds or walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ cup soy margarine
  • 3 pounds Bosc pears, cored and sliced (about 6 cups of sliced fruit)
  • ½ cup bourbon (or apple juice if you don’t want to use bourbon)
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ cup vegan granulated sweetener
  • ¼ cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl combine oats, flour, ¼ cup sweetener, ground nuts, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Mix well. Cut in soy margarine until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Spread ⅓ of the mixture in a 2 ½ quart casserole dish. Save the rest for the topping. Combine pears, bourbon, nutmeg, ¼ cup sweetener, and raisins. Mix well. Spread pear mixture over the crumb mixture. Then spread the rest of the topping over the top of the pears and press down. Bake for 50 minutes or until topping is lightly browned.

Total calories per serving: 439 Fat: 14 grams
Carbohydrates: 70 grams Protein: 9 gram
Sodium: 529 milligrams Fiber: 9 grams

Orange-Spice Cake

(Makes 9 x 5-inch loaf)

Though now we usually call something bake in a loaf pan a “quick bread,” early in the 20th century they were called “loaf cakes.” My great-grandmother’s cakes were always made with eggs, but I’ve found that flax seeds blended with water make an excellent egg replacer when you want to make a traditional recipe that calls for eggs.

  • 2 Tablespoons flax seeds
  • 6 Tablespoons water
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • ⅓ cup soy or rice milk, or as needed
  • 2 cups flour (unbleached white or whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 3 Tablespoons rum (or 1 Tablespoon vanilla if you don’t want to use rum)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ cup chopped dried fruit (apples, dates, apricots, raisins, blueberries, or cranberries)
  • ⅓ cup oil
  • ½ to ¾ cup vegan granulated sweetener

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Grind the flax seeds in a spice or coffe mill to a medium-fine meal, or the consistency of wheat or oat bran. Place the ground seeds in a blender and mix with the water until seeds are thick and foamy. Set aside. In a liquid measuring cup combine orange juice and enough soy or rice milk to make ¾ cup. Set aside for the milk to curdle. (This will give a buttermilk-like flavor to the bread.) In a large mixing bowl combine orange zest, flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. Mix well, making sure there are no small lumps. Mix in the dried fruit. In another smaller bowl, cream the oil and sweetener together until smooth and creamy. With a spoon, blend the flax seed egg-replacer with the oil and sweetener mixture until smooth and creamy, then beat in the orange-soy milk mixture. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour the liquid ingredients into the well and mix in a with a spoon. Mix until a thick dough forms. Scrape the dough in to the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle of the loaf. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before removing from baking pan. Cool on a rack. Serve warm or cold.

Total calories per serving: 163 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 22 grams Protein: 3 gram
Sodium: 234 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams


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