A glorious granola recipe (plenty to give & some for you, too)

jarsMy grandmother Kenison crocheted afghans and made the world’s best doughnuts, two skills I still wish I’d learned from her before it was too late.

She was also the first person I ever knew who made her own granola, back in the days when “health food” was considered a fad, “organic” might as well have been a foreign word, and the cereal boxes in our kitchen cupboard at home ran from Raisin Bran to Cap’n Crunch.

At least, on a visit years ago when I was newly married, I did have the foresight to write down Grammie’s recipe.  recipeAnd although I can’t present every member of our family with a hand-made afghan this Christmas as she once did, I am following in her footsteps. With the exception of books (I always give books!), most of the gifts I’m getting ready to wrap this year aren’t coming from stores.  They’re coming from me.

My granola isn’t exactly like my grandmother’s. I’ve taken some license with her original recipe over the years.  It’s fun to play with new combinations of ingredients, and it never turns out quite the same twice anyway.  (She liked carob powder in hers; lately, I’ve been experimenting with cardamom in mine.) The one thing I always do, though, is make a lot.  And it’s always delicious.  I think of my grandmother every time I start gathering the ingredients, and I feel happier creating something simple from scratch than clicking a “buy now” button on my computer or wandering through stores looking for the “perfect” gift.

As I type these words, the smells of maple and cinnamon and cardamom are still lingering.  Steve and Henry have been nibbling with every pass they make through the kitchen.  The floor is littered with stray oats and walnuts and sesame seeds.  The counters are sticky with syrup and crowded with every huge bowl we own. I haven’t set foot outside all day, or spent a penny, or thought once about the Christmas party we all agreed not to attend.  I haven’t answered an email, checked Facebook, or looked at my to-do list for the rest of the week.  There are all sorts of things I have yet to do.

granola - Version 2But something good has happened here, as the apricots and dried plums were chopped, as the trays went in and out of the oven, as the jars on the table were filled, and as my husband and son stepped in to help wash some dishes.

I’ve been reminded, once again, that I don’t have to go out in search of Christmas spirit.  I can create it here in my own kitchen, with a yellowed, handwritten recipe falling out of an old notebook, a few pounds of rolled oats, an abundance of nuts and fruit, and a day given over to being right where I am, doing just one thing at a time.

Food made with love and given in joy is always gratefully received. I can pretty much guarantee that a jar of homemade “glorious granola” is a gift no one will shove in the back of a closet or need to return on Dec. 26.  Just be sure to keep one jar for yourself.

Are you making any gifts this year?  If so, what?  What is the best home-made gift you ever received?  I’d love to hear from you!

Glorious Granola (to keep or give away)

a basic recipe with some variations

1 14 oz. jar of organic coconut oil

4 T. unsalted butter (more butter = more clumps; feel free to increase or decrease here)

2 T. dark brown sugar

1 cup dark maple syrup

1 T. vanilla extract

1 T. good quality cinnamon

2 tsp. cardamom (optional)

8-10 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup of organic unsweetened coconut flakes (optional)

4-6 cups raw, unsalted nuts (I generally use a combinations of sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, and  pumpkin seeds, but sometimes I switch in cashews, pistachios, and/or pecans.)

1-2 cups raw sesame seeds

4 cups mixed chopped dried fruit in any combination you like (sour cherries, cranberries, apricots, raisins, golden raisins, dates, plums, blueberries.)

½ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger (optional)

Sea salt or Maldon salt flakes

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the coconut oil, brown sugar, maple syrup, and butter until oil and butter are melted, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in a generous pinch of salt, the vanilla extract, cinnamon, and cardamom if using.

3. Place the rolled oats and the mixed nuts in a large mixing bowl and pour the oil/syrup mixture over. Stir with a spatula to coat the oats and nuts evenly. Divide the mixture between three jellyroll pans. (Make thin, even layers; you should have enough left in the bowl for at least three more pans after the first batch are done.  If you like, line the pans with parchment – sometimes I do, but not always.) Taste for balance of flavors.

4. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes, rotating the sheets and stirring every ten minutes.

5. While still warm, stir in the dried fruit and ginger and sprinkle with more salt flakes to taste.   Cool completely before covering.  The mixture will keep in a tightly covered container at room temperature for at least a week.  Store the rest in your freezer in zip-lock bags or pack into jars to share.

A few tips

1.  Feel free to play around with this basic recipe.  As long as you don’t over-sweeten or over-cook, you can’t go wrong.  Taste your way along.

2.  You can use more butter, for a toastier, richer flavor and more clumps.  Try fruit puree (apple is good) in place of the oil for a lighter, crunchier result.  Cut back on the syrup or leave out the brown sugar if you prefer your granola less sweet.  Canola or vegetable oil works fine in place of the coconut oil.  Even a light olive oil works well. Any neutral oil is fine.

3.  Be liberal with the Maldon salt flakes and taste to get desired result.  What sets my granola apart is the perfect, subtle balance between slightly sweet and slightly salty. 

4.  Try different combinations of spices, sweeteners, nuts, and fruits.  (I choose organic ingredients whenever possible.)

5.  I like these:  apricot/cardamom/crystallized ginger; grated orange zest (mix in with the oats and bake)/cranberry/maple; lavender buds/lemon zest (again, bake in with oat mixture)/honey.

6.  Other things you can add, or not:  carob powder, flax seeds, hemp seeds, dried mulberries, gojii berries.  The recipe above is gluten-free; you can add wheat germ if gluten-free isn’t a requirement for you.

7.  Don’t overcook but make sure granola is evenly browned throughout, stir every ten minutes, never bake the fruits; always mix them in to your still-warm granola.

8.  Cool completely before covering, stirring occasionally.  

9.  Consider the recipe above a work in progress and allow it to evolve as you go.  This will make plenty of granola to divide up into generous gift portions, with some left for you.

10.  For a lovely presentation, pack your granola into classic Weck Tulip Jars, available online at http://weckjars.com

for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. Coincidentally, I’m making granola, too, this year, along with a recipe for my favorite homemade granola bars. Also Christmas cookies. That’s the extent of my craftiness! I am SO over Christmas shopping, let me tell you. Next year, I’m shopping throughout the year for the (few) things I buy, and will let December unfold as it may. Live and learn, right?

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      I couldn’t agree more! Keep it simple, focus on what really matters, and let December unfold as it may. Granola bars sound like a great idea, too.

  2. I used to make an assortment of Christmas cookies for neighbors & friends. But as the number of plates increased (there’s always someone else you’d like to do something for…) it became a monumental chore that did nothing for my Christmas spirit. So one year I decided to make chocolate mints instead. The “recipe” is simple ~ buy really good quality mint-infused chocolate, melt it carefully, & use candy molds to make snowflakes, trees & stars (or whatever appeals to you). Find cute cello bags (PaperMart.com) & tie with festive ribbon. The time it takes is easy to find in the spaces that naturally occur throughout the day, since you fill the molds & let them set while you go do something else. Empty them when you get a chance; repeat. I make quite a few bags, so I start making candy in November, & just fit it in when I feel like it. I enjoy doing it, it makes the kitchen smell fantastic, & when we deliver them, we hear over & over, “Oh, I was HOPING you’d do this again this year!”

    Which is exactly how I feel about my friend Judy’s Christmas toffee =)

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Love this idea. The things we DO with joy are received with joy. Glad there are cookie bakers among us, but we can each find our “thing” and go with it!

  3. This year my children and I are making peppermint bark and hot chocolate cubes to give to the teachers in their lives. This is the first year for both recipes and it was easy and fun to prepare them today. For our own family we will make iced sugar cookies and cinnamon popcorn (a family recipe) closer to the actual date of Christmas. It’s a gift in itself to create in the kitchen, and to have my children collaborate with me.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Exactly — cooking with kids is the best, no matter how old they are! I made chocolate bark this year, too. Enjoy your time together!

  4. Gah! I am doing NOTHING homemade. ALL I am doing is clicking the 1-click button and it feels kind of terrible. I am the poster child for what not to do for Christmas. I even bought my niece a Barbie and let me just say that I am physically pained by that.

    I am so glad you wrote this. People like me need to see the light:) I am going to make a batch of this in January. xoxo

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Your niece will think you’re the best aunt on the planet. And granola is good all year long. You ARE the light, my friend. Now, enjoy the season.

  5. I enjoy rubber stamping–I wish I could draw but I can’t so this is my way of “drawing”. I buy manila tags at an office supply store and stamp gift tags–my kitchen table has been full of supplies–I finally finished and put my supplies away! It brings me a lot of joy to make them. I often package them in unbleached wax paper bags, fold the open end over and seal it with a holiday sticker. I give them to various groups of friends I do things with, throughout the year. I have been part of a quilt group–seven of us–who have been meeting once a month, for about 30 years–we don’t quilt as much as we used to and are a support group more than a quilt group now. Making something brings you joy, I am convinced. Thank you for sharing your granola recipe and your wisdom. Blessings to you and your family. You add much to my life.

    • I am one of the lucky recipients of Gerry’s generosity with the things she creates. The gifts are beautiful, thoughtful and kind……exactly how Gerry is.
      Love this website, and yes, Gerry was the one who introduced me to it!

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      My mom is a stamper, too, and I love receiving her cards made just for me. My sister in law makes us gift tags, like yours, and receiving that early Christmas present from her always puts me in a happy mood. I wish I could plan that far ahead! Thank you for the inspiration!

  6. Denise Erickson says:

    Katrina, I have been following you for some time now, since reading “The Gift of an Ordinary Day.” This post moved me to write. You touched my heart with the value of sharing something made with love, something one can’t “return” . These are by far the most precious gifts. The season of joy and sharing encourages us to give from. Our hearts. Thank you for your beautiful reflections. Xoxo

  7. Linda Rosenfeld says:

    Thanks for the recipe. Can’t wait to try it. One year for Passover, we made granola with matzah. It actually tasted quite good. I try every year to pick a theme for Chanukah presents. Last year, it was movies and books. This year, we visited Paris and London, and brought back things like coffee, tea, and honey. Our theme this year is food. We are making crepes, madelines, and shortbread to have with our tea and coffee. It puts everyone in good spirits. Then we get out our cds of French and
    British music to complete the mood. I share your wonderful essays with my best friend. She loved your books as much as I do. Always looking forward to the next installment. Have a wonderful and peaceful holiday season.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      I think my theme is food this year, too, though I hadn’t realized it. But what a great idea, to work around a theme and have fun with it. Thanks so much for writing. Edith Piaf and crepes — sounds like heaven to me!

  8. Paul and I were newly married in those make-your-own-granola days of the ’60s and we enjoyed trying different variations. Haven’t done it in years so your recipe inspires me. My father made popcorn balls starting right after Thanksgiving. Anyone who came to the door got a bag of them to take home – the smell of blackstrap molasses still reminds me of those.

    My mother-in-law taught me how to make Kolaces (Koh-lah-cheez), from her Czechoslovakian grandmother. It’s a sweet bread filled with one of several fillings: poppyseed, prune, apple, etc. It’s tricky pulling the opposite ends of a square piece of dough and actually tying them across the middle to hold in the filling. I try to makes these in time for Christmas (or Boxing Day) so we can have them for breakfast, but a short version is making it into a rollicke (roll-a-kee.)

    We hang a sheet between the family room and kitchen to help keep the kitchen warm so as to keep the dough soft when making them. I end up wearing a tank top in December! My family loves that we keep this tradition, but I wish I knew someone from Czechoslovakia so I could watch them and get another lesson. Thanks for sharing your recipe and your family stories.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Such wonderful images, Pam! I’d forgotten all about popcorn balls — we made them as kids. Time to try again, maybe. And I love thinking of you in a tank top in a steamy kitchen as the snow flies outside.

  9. I make little balsam filled bags, only 4″x6″ cut out rectangles from material, then sewn around leaving one side open. Fill with balsam and then machine stitch across the end.
    Tie with a colorful ribbon. Easy and fun and aroma filled project. I place in my car and encourage others to place where they would like a scent of forested Maine.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      I’m starting a list of ideas for NEXT year. Balsam pillows are now on it. Perfect for me, as I would love to fill my house with that scent — and have an excuse to pick up pretty fabric through the year. Thank you!

  10. Sounds so delish! Great idea for a gift this year. Thanks.

  11. I work in a primary school in Rogersville, Missouri, and this year we have already had five snow days and it isn’t even officially winter yet! This has given me time I wouldn’t usually have to make some home made gifts and what I spent hours on last week was hand copying my 30 page journal from a wonderful summer vacation that my sister and I took to Glacier National Park with our elderly parents this past summer. I thought about typing it, but thought it would mean more in my own handwriting, so I bought two small notebooks for this and made one copy for my parents and one for my sister :-). I can’t wait to give these to them!

  12. Over the years I’ve felt increasingly guilty about giving so much sugar, sugar, sugar, so the last few I’ve also been giving granola – and friends and family love it! Only one turns up her nose at my “bird food” 🙂 but I’m hoping she’ll come around one of these days. I love your granola recipe and am excited to try it for new, yummy ideas. Merry Christmas, Katrina! I love your blog and am trying to follow your example of sloooowing down.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      I write to remind MYSELF to slow down. Today, it’s easy — a foot of snow on the ground, and no place we need to go. Thanks for writing, Amy!

  13. I have to tell you, Ms. Kenison, I really enjoy reading the thoughts you share. Thank you so much for giving of your heart to all of us. Merry Christmas to you and your sweet family! Please keep writing……for all of us!

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Thank you Chareen. I love having this online “home” — and meeting the wise and inspiring people who stop by to say hello. The gratitude goes both ways, for sure.

  14. Thank you for sharing this! We still use your recipes for steel-cut oats and bread from Mitten Strings for God.

    I’m wondering if you have an edition of The Christmas Carol you would recommend. I’m looking for a hardcover that’s also beautiful to hold, fitting for a gift. Thanks in advance!

  15. Mary Lynne Johnson says:

    Happy snowy day, Katrina!
    I just finished your glorious granola recipe and will post a picture to my kids;)
    They don’t think their Mom knows how to cook anymore, but it’s actually a choice.
    Most of the time. I like to think of myself as a “preparer”, Russ is the cook.
    I am also a recipe follower…word for word. I kept going back to check your directions.
    Added the sesame seeds with the nuts. Hope that was right. Anyway, the granola is gorgeous and glorious. Thanks for sharing and have a blessed, joyful Christmas.
    With gratitude for sharing yourself with us, Mary Lynne

  16. Dear Katrina, Thank you so much for this “glorious” recipe. I am definitely making a batch of granola this week. Chocolate bark is also on the agenda. Last year after Hurricane Sandy and Newtown, my children and I (and our extended families) decided not to exchange gifts, but to give whatever $$ we would have spent to a charity of choice. We are doing the same this year. A few little recycled gifts for my granddaughter, who will be 3, but the focus has completely changed. The spirit of the miracle of Christmas is about love and family and being together. I love your writing always.

  17. Most of my shopping is true commercialization/materialism at it’s worst (although I vetoed all Black Friday shopping – the thought of workers leaving their families when the oven was still warm from their turkey dinner sickened me). However, every year, I make candied/sugar-spice walnuts and those little pretzel/hersey kiss/m&m treats for the kids’ teachers and bus driver (for my younger ones – my daughter just about passed out when I asked if she’d like any for her teachers – apparently that would be social catastrophe to show her high school teachers any appreciation??). Our bus driver enjoys the nuts so much, this year I think I’ll surprise him with another bag in the afternoon, since last year he said he had already eaten them the day I gave him our treats! Neither of my boys are in band this year (I know, it pains me but the fight about practicing wasn’t worth it) but the son who quit this year asked if he could still give some to his former band teacher! I am going to try and make your granola recipe next week for some last minute gifts – it sounds delicious. I wish I had the time and energy to make more homemade gifts. The thought of your peaceful home while you made granola is so enticing. My reality is breaking up my kids’ arguments, answering homework questions, stepping over restless dogs, getting snacks for hungry mouths (and gasp even a quick dinner – they still need to be fed while I’m making food gifts?? sheesh!), and answering the phone. Not exactly the peaceful and joyful task I dream about (cue the Christmas music, etc) but I will embrace the chaos as I know it is fleeting. Enjoy the season.

    and whomever gave the balsam bag idea – where do you get the balsam filling?

  18. Kim Carter says:

    Almost every gift I gave thia past Christmas (with the exception of the gift cards for grandsons) was handmade. I had been knitting cowls all summer for my girlfriends out of soft baby alpaca yarn. My other gifts were decorative painted wood figures that I cut out and painted such as Santas, Victorian carollers, and angels. I would much rather sit at my painting table or knit ( with my two dogs at my side) and create something special for someone who is special to me, than fight traffic and crowds out shopping. I received a jar of beautiful homemade granola from a dear friend and it was wonderful. So now must try your receipe! Looks yummy!

  19. connie young-schreckengost says:

    My favorite “homemade” gift was given to me as a child from my maternal grandmother—Alice Grove. She was a widow that raised 7 children alone and lived on an extremely LIMITED budget……I have no idea how she made ends meet. However, I recall my favorite Christmas with her as she knitted mittens for me and all of my siblings (8). I was about 12 years of age when I happily received the brown mittens with a bright red stripe at the cuff They were the warmest mittens I ever wore! They remind me of her amazing talents(she could cook, bake, sew, knit, crochet, and make furniture) and her fierce determination to persevere throughout all of life’s challenges. The mittens still hang in my office today and I cherish them!

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