resurrecting a legacy: mom's spicy sloppy joes

Without really knowing it, I think my mother was a food writer at heart. By profession she was a technical writer but she also took great care in transcribing family recipes. When she passed away I found several formats of her own recipe book that included many of our family favorites like porcupine balls, Grandma Helwig's old-fashioned carrot cake, open face hamburgers, and sloppy joes.

Rereading her recipes, I can hear her voice, guiding me on the proper way to prepare a sauce, season a dish, and stretch a dollar in the kitchen. Long before I started my journey writing gluten-free recipes for the bakery and the blog, my goal was to recreate my mother's recipes, photograph them, and put together a cookbook as a gift for my two younger sisters. And while that is still a goal, I also want to introduce my mother to Patrick through her recipes. Patrick never had the chance of knowing what a wonderful woman and cook my mother was so my challenge was to keep the integrity of her recipes while making them safe for Patrick to eat. And now that we are making hamburger buns at the bakery, I knew I had to resurrect her recipe for sloppy joes.

gluten-free hamburger buns

To be honest, the last time I think I ate sloppy joes was with my mother. I have vague memories of their flavor and texture, but definitely couldn't recite the recipe by memory. All I could remember about the sloppy joes was that they were a) messy as any good sloppy joe should be, b) cooked in my mothers favorite cast iron skillet, and c) full of shredded carrots. After mentioning the carrots to Patrick, he eyed me skeptically. "Trust me," I said. "Her Joes are the bomb diggaty." I consulted the recipe, and confirmed that yes there were four large grated carrots in addition to celery and onion. If the carrots aren't typical, I suspect it was her way of sneaking in the veggies. All I can say is that it totally worked. Thinking about it now, these sloppy joes would be the perfect meal to hide veggies in if you have a picky eater. Butternut squash, green peppers, heck even peas could totatlly fit right in and go unnoticed by a hungry child. Veggies or no veggies, I always loved eating her sloppy joes. They were saucy and meaty, and had a sweetness to them that I attribute to the lightly caramelized carrots.

gluten free sloppy joes

After making the recipe, I also noticed that the sloppy joes had a pretty good spice level. I tend to believe that my mother must have omitted the chili powder entirely when she would make it for us.  We rarely ate foods that were that spicy. But hey, if you like spice, leave it in. I promise you will love it!

gluten-free spicy sloppy joes

In my mother's recipe notes she recommends serving the sloppy joes with apple sauce and a side salad. Since we didn't have any applesauce we ate our joes with potato chips. A side salad of blood oranges and fricassee with an aged balsamic dressing rounded out the meal. Enjoy!

mom's spicy sloppy joes

Serves: 4-6

Prepare your sloppy joes in a large 12" skillet pan. Serving suggestions: Serve with applesauce and coleslaw or green salad, or potato salad.


  • 4 large carrots, peeled and grated
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 med. onion, chopped
  • 2 large cloves minced garlic
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • ½ c. ketchup
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • ¼ tsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. pepper or to taste
  • 4-6 gluten-free hamburger buns


  1. Saute carrots 'till tender in a large skillet. Add celery, then saute 'till tender. Add onion, then cook 'till almost transparent.
  2. Add minced garlic and ground beef and stir until the ground beef is broken up. When the ground beef is browned, add tomato sauce, ketchup and spices.
  3. Simmer 'till thickened (about 20 minutes), then serve on toasted buns.




I think your mother and mine must have been related, because my mom also made great Sloppy Joes and Porcupine Meatballs (did they have cloves in them?). Do you by chance have a recipes for the Porcupine Meatballs? Thanks!

Hi Chris! Great moms think alike I suppose. :) I looked at her recipe and didn't see cloves but I think it would work fabulously! I hope to post her recipe for porcupine meatballs soon! Best, Charissa

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