Bloomington / Normal, IL

Working with the community... for a healthier community.

A Healthful Twist to Holiday Desserts


By Jackie Pope-Ganser, Green Top Grocery


With the holiday season and cooler weather upon us, our natural instincts of baking begin to take over. It is the time of the year where we pull out our best decadent signature baked good recipes, many that have been passed down through generations, and commence the season to enjoy all the comforts that come along with the joys of baking.

This year, rather than preparing traditional family recipes, challenge yourself to explore a more healthful-minded collection of festive baked goods to serve. With dietary and lifestyle choices of gluten-free; vegan preferences; clean eating; heart-healthy; low-fat; low-carbohydrate; utilizing local ingredients and more; we have so many options for preparation to meet many of these needs without putting limitations on flavor, flair or decadence.

If you are planning on hosting the family holiday meal at your home, impress your guests with new family favorites that provide a greater nutrient base as well as tremendous flavor and eye appeal. Try preparing a beautiful Maple Walnut Cranberry Pie (see our recipe on pg. 31) rather than a traditional sugar-laden pecan pie. Use a local maple syrup and farm fresh eggs for the decadent base and nutrient rich cranberries and walnuts for texture and eye appeal. Cranberries are traditional in holiday preparation and have tremendous high-nutrient and anti-oxidant benefits. Health benefits include prevention of certain cancers; ability to decrease blood pressure and lowering risks of urinary tract infections.

Another great holiday option that allows you to use local ingredients as well as serve a gluten-free dietary concern is Baked Apples Stuffed with Cinnamon Date Pecan Oatmeal (see our recipe on pg. 31). The aromas that will fill your home as you’re creating this delicious dessert will tempt everyone. Farmer’s markets are a great resource for ingredients grown close to home and have much higher nutritional content due to lack of pesticide use, long term storage or preservatives. Apples also have been noted to reduce the risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and have long been touted as one of the healthiest foods a person can eat. Green Top Grocery has many gluten-free oatmeal and granolas that make these baked apples, much like an inside-out apple pie, greatly satisfying for the gluten-intolerant guest. Cinnamon, a natural paired with apples and oats, is a true miracle food as it has great anti-inflammatory benefits which aid in reducing arthritis and joint pains and is known to help in lowering blood sugar levels in diabetics.

We know, of course, that preparing these beautiful baked apples or the tart and sweet cranberry laden pie is not going to give you all those benefits in a single serving, but it is a step in the right direction in responsible, yet delectable holiday consumption.

As you are planning your holiday meals or what you may be taking to an office party or another’s holiday celebration, remember to do your research. Many of the traditional ingredients used in holiday baking are nutrient filled. Pumpkin, pureed sweet potatoes and squash are tremendous bases to quick breads, stuffing and pies. Walnuts, almonds, and pecans are loaded with nutrients. Oats and dried fruits can spark a recipe and add heart healthy anti-oxidant and needed fiber to a recipe. Fill your baked goods with love and healthy ingredients that are good for the mind, body, and soul—that is something to celebrate!


     Green Top Grocery, located at 921 E. Washington St, is a local full-service co-op grocery store that places a priority on supporting local farmers and producers to contribute to a sustainable food supply and help build a stronger, more local economy. If you are interested in becoming a member of this community-based, community-built cooperative, please stop in, give them a call at (309) 306-1523, or visit them online at



Maple Walnut Cranberry Pie


1 single pie crust (your favorite recipe)

½ c. pure maple syrup (locally harvested if possible)

½ c. dark corn syrup

2 TBSP. butter, melted

2 tsp. cornstarch

2 tsp. vanilla extract

½ tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp. salt

3 large eggs, lightly beaten (locally raised if possible)

1-1/2 fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped

¾ c. coarsely chopped walnuts


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Spray pie plate with non-stick cooking spray. Roll dough into an 11-inch circle; fit into pie plate, fold edges under and flute. Line bottom of dough with a piece of parchment paper, fill with pie weights to prevent shrinkage or bubbling of crust. Place in oven for 5 minutes. Remove pie weights and parchment; bake one more minute, Remove from oven and cool on rack. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
  3. Combine maple syrup, corn syrup, butter, cornstarch, vanilla, cinnamon, and eggs in medium bowl. Whisk ingredients until incorporated. Gently stir in cranberries and walnuts. Pour mixture into prepared pie crust.
  4. Place pie on sheet pan and bake in 350 degrees oven for 45 minutes or until filling is just set. To prevent crust from burning, shield edges with pie crust protector or foil around edges after 15 minutes of baking.
  5. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours before serving.






Baked Apples With Cinnamon

Date Pecan Oatmeal

(serves 4)


2 large firm tart baking apples, cored (locally grown if possible)

1 cup rolled oats (gluten free if dietary concern)

1 tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp. nutmeg

4 whole Medjool dates, pitted and chopped

1 TBSP. ground flax

¼ c. pecans

1-1/2 c. whole milk (or almond milk)

1 tsp. vanilla

1-1/2 TBSP. pure maple syrup (locally harvested if possible), plus additional for drizzling

Whipped cream & additional cinnamon for serving


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash and core apples, at least 1” in diameter to accommodate filling. Place cored apples in a lightly oiled rimmed baking dish.
  2. In mixing bowl, blend together remaining ingredients. Fill cored center with oat mixture and pack lightly. Spread remaining oat mixture in bottom of pan, loosely surrounding the apples.
  3. Bake, uncovered for approximately 35–50 minutes until apples are golden and tender. The time will vary based on the size of the apples. If apple are browning too much, but are not yet tender, cover with foil and continue baking. (To test for doneness, pierce apple with paring knife or skewer. If it slides through easily, apples are done.)
  4. When done, remove from oven, let cool about 5 minutes. To serve, cut apples in half down the center, place each half on serving plate with oatmeal from bottom of pan and drizzle with additional maple syrup, whipped cream, and cinnamon.