1950s’ Lemon Bars

1950s’ lemon bars

Here I give details concerning the known history of tantalizing lemons-dating back to before Christ-as well as a time-tested receipt for lemon bars.

In the 1950s, my mother often made these great bars, using a then popular recipe probably derived from a magazine, to which I have added my touches to make them simpler, tastier, better!

There are many variations of fruit that grow on trees in the genus Citrus, and these are prone to form hybrids with each other, making it hard for scientists to work out family relationships.  Today it is believed that the common domesticated citrus fruits all derive from just three parents: the citron Citrus medica, the mandarin orange Citrus reticulate, and the pummelo Citrus maxima.  1

Lemons, so valued for their acidity-often 5% of the juice-are widely used in cooking and are highly revered in the making of beverages, pectin, medicines, and beauty products.  This fruit may have originated as a two-step hybrid, in which both steps were citron-crossed with lime.  It is proposed that the first step of this hybrid arose in the area of northwest India and Pakistan, while the second took place in the Middle East, where the citron, crossed with lime, was crossed additionally with pummelo.  2

In Food in History, Reay Tannahill postulates that people may have been eating lemons and limes as early as 2300 BC, when the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Dato, of the great Indus civilizations, were at their peak.  3

Around 100 AD lemons arrived in the Mediterranean via Arab traders; by 400 they were planted in orchards in Moorish Spain.  Presently they are mainly cultivated in subtropical regions, with many varieties of true lemon, as well as a couple of further hybrids, such as the Ponderosa and Meyer lemons; the Ponderosa is large and coarse, probably a lemon-citron cross.  The Meyer, probably a cross between the lemon and either orange or mandarin, however, is thin-skinned, with less acid, and a distinctive flavor due in part to a thyme note (from thymol); this later came to California in the early 20th century.  4

“Curing” promotes longer shelf life of lemons.  Being picked green, they are held in controlled conditions for several weeks, allowing their green skins to yellow, thin, and develop a waxy surface; curing also promotes enlargement of the juice vesicles.  5

Epicures appreciate the preserved lemons of northern Africa as a condiment; they are made by cutting and salting lemons and letting them ferment for several weeks.  (Up to a month may be required, as suggested in the great recipe at https://nourishedkitchen.com/morrocan-preserved-lemons/.)  This process allows for the growth of bacteria and yeasts, which softens the rind and changes the aroma from bright and sharp to rich and rounded.  6

Often attempts are made to shorten the steps with many in-depth cooking procedures today.  Such has occurred with these preserved lemons-for example they are frozen and thawed to speed salt penetration, then salted for a few hours or days.  This will bring some of the needed chemical changes as the oil glands are disrupted and their contents are mixed with other substances, but without fermentation, full flavor development will not occur.  7

In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee writes that lemon comes via Arabic from a Persian word, reflecting the route these Asian fruits took as they made their way to the West.  8

Enjoy the explosion of great flavor in this proven lemon bar recipe!

References:

  1. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 373.
  2. Ibid., p. 377.
  3. Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three River Press, 1973, 1988), pp. 38, 39.
  4. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 377.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid. and https://nourishedkitchen.com/morrocan-preserved-lemons/
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.

finished product

1950s’ Lemon Bars  Yields: 16 small bars.  Total prep time: 55 min/  active prep time: 20 min/  inactive prep time: 10 min/ baking time: 25 min.  (There was a note on Mom’s recipe to add more lemon to this original 20th century recipe; thus, I increased both the lemon juice and flour to 3 tbsp each.)

1 c plus 3 tbsp unbleached white flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic is high quality.)

1/2 c butter, softened

1/4 c powdered sugar  (Organic is best; available at Trader Joe’s.)

2 lg eggs

1 c sugar  (Coconut sugar is ideal, in place of the white; may also use turbinado, raw cane sugar.)

Zest of 2 small lemons  (Organic is very important, in order to avoid the taste of pesticides; available inexpensively at Trader’s.)

3 tbsp lemon juice, fresh squeezed

1/2 tsp of salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

1/2 tsp baking powder

  1. golden crust

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. Spray lemons with a safe, effective, inexpensive produce spray (combine 97% white distilled vinegar with 3% hydrogen peroxide).  Let sit for 3 minutes and rinse well.
  3. With a fork in a medium bowl, blend 1 c flour, butter, and 1/4 c powdered sugar, until mealy like a pie crust.  Pat mixture firmly into an ungreased 8” x 8” pan and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown (see above photo).  Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.
  4. frothy filling mixture

    Meanwhile zest lemons, then juice them.

  5. Slightly beat the eggs in a bowl with an electric mixer; blend in your choice of 1 c white, coconut, or turbindo sugar.  (For info on coconut and cane sugars, see Zucchini Bread-2017/07/24-and Pear Pie-2016/10/31-respectively.)
  6. Mix in remaining 3 tbsp flour, salt, and baking powder; add lemon zest and juice, beating until frothy (see photo above).  Set aside.
  7. bars at end of baking

    Spread lemon mixture evenly on top of slightly cooled crust.  Return to oven and bake for 25 minutes more, or until golden brown.  Note: this will firm up more with cooling.  See photo.

  8. Dust with powdered sugar and cut into 16 pieces, while bars are warm.  Refrigerate leftovers.

Nutty/Lemon/Coconut Bars

nutty/lemon/coconut bars

This recipe for nutty/lemon/coconut bars is from the mid-1960’s, given to me by my beautiful aunt Sheila.  She made them for her family, while living in East Glacier Park, Montana.

A decade later, after moving 90 miles away to Kalispell, this same aunt watched over me like a hen over her chick, as I was recovering from bulimia and anorexia then.  Having overcome much in her own life, she was willing to share her victories.  She approached her covering of me, as a humble friend, coming along side me gently. We spent numerous hours in each others company, usually over food, while we frequently perused the daily reading from her treasured God Calling, an inspired devotional written by two women in England.  How I recall our immense excitement over the accuracy, with which these prophetic, living words touched our souls!

Sheila loved good edibles.  From the seventies on, after her move to the city, however, her delight was to indulge in fine cuisine at restaurants, rather than spending the necessary preparatory time in a kitchen.  Her constant discovery of new establishments blessed us here in Portland, Oregon, where we both resided before she passed away in the 90’s.

Unlike my aunt, for me the height of indulgence in food is found in the strength imparted by the whole hands-on process, from the beginning to end stages, present in receiving nourishing substance.  This starts initially with the act of shopping, it intensifies as I press in over a stove, and it culminates in a grand finale as I partake of pleasures at the table.  For me, each level is essential in the mastery of the art of fine cuisine; likewise all require diligence in their practice,

For instance, shopping can bring joyful breakthrough, i.e., the hunting for specials at Fred Meyer recently benefited me greatly: the produce worker John and I were chatting, while he was doing his work and I was examining artichokes; he suddenly broke out excitedly, “I can teach you how to test this vegetable for freshness.”  He proceeded to show me how to squeeze its middle, instructing that if it flattens out it is past its prime.  Eagerly he promised that when watermelon season arrives, his expertise will be at its prime, for he never misses with this fruit-I can’t wait to share this tidbit with you also.

From the grocery store, I go to my kitchen, equipped with the best.  There I purpose to set my day’s thoughts aside, as I settle into cooking, striving for peace, which is critical, or mistakes get made, and our Father’s intended gratification is lost.

Julia Child comes to mind, with her passion for every aspect of fine food, especially her fervency in sharing her knowledge with the world; this can be seen clearly in her approach to helping young, aspiring chefs.  As with so many others, I was taken under her wings, with five encouraging letters in the 80’s and 90’s.  Her covering was a gift from God, who longs to envelop us with such protective shelter, as he did for me with my aunt in earlier years.  Indeed, I have become who I am today, by humbly receiving such guidance from authorities.

Sheila’s nutty coconut bars satisfy the child within, with their lemon savor; it’s my joy to share these with you.  Bon appetit!

finished product

Nutty/Lemon/Coconut Bars  Yields: about 30 bars.  Total prep time: 1 hr.

1 c plus 2 tbsp flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached white flour is ideal.)

1/2 c butter, softened

1 1/2 c brown sugar  (Organic is preferable, available at Costco, also at Trader Joe’s in an 1 1/2 lb bag.)

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 large eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp salt

1 c unsweetened coconut shredded flakes (This is available in Bob’s Red Mill packages at most grocery stores, where it is also frequently sold in bulk.)

1 c pecans

1 1/2 c powdered sugar  (Organic can be found at Costco and Trader’s.)

1/3 c fresh lemon juice  (3 small/med lemons will be needed.)

  1. baked crust

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. Cream butter and 1/2 c brown sugar in a bowl; add 1 c flour, over which baking powder is sprinkled evenly; work together with a fork, until it becomes mealy, like pie crust.  Pat this down firmly in the bottom of an ungreased 9” x 12” pan (this size pan is out-dated; you may substitute the equivalent in square inches, or around 108″; 2-8” x 8” pans will work; 2-9″ x 9″ pans, however, will be too large).  Bake for 12 minutes; then, remove from oven; see photo above.
  3. Meanwhile beat eggs well; mix in vanilla and salt; blend in 1 c brown sugar, 2 tbsp flour, coconut, and pecans.  Spread this mixture over baked-crust (see photo below).  Return to oven and bake for 25 minutes more, or until golden brown (see photo at top of recipe).  Prepare frosting next.
  4. spreading coconut mixture over crust

    First, place 1 1/2 c powdered sugar in a medium bowl; then, measure and pour lemon juice over sugar; beat with a spatula until lumps are gone; set aside.

  5. When bars are through baking, immediately pour lemon frosting over top; cool before cutting.  How I love these!

Mor Monsen’s Kaker-Norwegian Christmas Cookies

plate of mor monsen’s kaker (my mother’s cake)

 

I took the winter off from college in 1973, to work at Big Mountain Ski Resort in Whitefish, Montana.  There in my small studio apartment’s kitchen, I first made these incredible bars, which are known for gracing Norwegian Christmases.

Scandinavian baking is in a class all its own.  These people are known to be masters of pastry as well as open-face sandwiches-often incorporating cardamom, rye, and saffron in their creations.   Presently, their culinary genius has reached new heights: numerous times in this past decade, Noma of Copenhagen has been the title winner of The World’s Best Restaurant; it promotes the popular New Nordic cuisine, which is a style of food that has gone beyond the boundaries of Scandinavia.

New Nordic is best known by the terms local and healthy.  In Norway, with a growing season that might last from June until August, it creatively uses the ocean, wild game, root vegetables, and cold-climate berries, such as the native cloudberry, which is highly valued in this country, as it can only be foraged, not cultivated commercially.

My simple, rich recipe exemplifies the culinary excellence of Norway; these lavish bars only call for currants and almonds, amidst the flour, eggs, sugar, and typical pound of butter.

Currants have an interesting history.  Today, these small dried seedless grapes, known as Zante currants, essentially come from the grape cultivar Black Corinth (Vitis vinifera), which is from the genus Ribes.  Related varieties, such as the White and Red Corinth (and other cultivars from the Black Corinth), are used rarely.

There are a total of about 150 categories in Ribes, including the above, as well as golden currants, gooseberries, and ornamental currants.  These various kinds are native to the northern latitudes of Europe, Asia, and North America, and within each individual species there are many cultivars-horticulturally derived plants, as distinguished from natural varieties-which have been developed over time.

Currants, which are most commonly dried, are generally referred to as Champagne grapes, when sold fresh, by U.S. specialty grocers.

The study of the origin of the word currant helps identify the history of our tiny fruit.  Written records of it initially date back to Pliny the Elder in 75 A.D.  A millennium later, we see the Middle English term raysons of couraunte, also known as raisins of Corinth (a region in ancient Greece which produced and exported these Ribes).

The word couraunte stands for (raisins of) Corinth, taken from the name Courauntz, which is of the Norman French dialect-a variety of speech used in Normandy and England in the Middle Ages-for this Greek region; this in turn comes from the medieval Old French Corinthe; thus, the dialectal name reysons de corauntz was first used for these grapes, when they were brought to the English market in the 14th century, from which the word currants eventually evolved.

In the 1600’s trade patterns shifted from Corinth to the Ionian Islands, particularly Zakynthos (Zante); thus, this small grape became known as Zante currant.

In 1854, the Zante currant the Black Corinth cultivar came via a trade ship to the United States, which eventually resulted in its commercial production in California; the related varieties the White and Red Corinth were established there in 1861.  (Presently, this state is one of the four major world producers of currants, with Greece covering about 80% of this total generation.)

Actually, trade ships were bringing varieties of Ribes to our soil as early as the 16th and 17th century; natural Corinth raisins, however, were indigenous here as well; the Native Americans had been harvesting them from the wild, long before any Europeans arrived, using them for medicines and dyes.

These Zante currants,  which were initially reported at the time of Christ, are presently hard to find.  In earlier days, I could find boxes of dried currants in many local supermarkets, but recently I can only find them in bulk at such upscale grocers as the national chain New Seasons, which also carries the seasonal, fresh Champagne grapes.

Try adding this dried delight to your next Waldorf salad, a batch of scones (see Scottish Oat Scones, 2016/06/20), or these superb Norwegian Christmas cookies.  Expect wonders!

References:

https://ag.umass.edu/sites/ag.umass.edu/files/fact-sheets/pdf/currants.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zante_currant

https://1historyofgreekfood.wordpress.com/2007/10/02/raisins-currants-sultanas/

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/best-scandinavian-cookbooks_us_5756c7e2e4b07823f951302c

http://www.cookingbythebook.com/cookbook-reviews/cookbook-review-scandinavian-baking-by-trine-hahnemann/

cutting bars in triangles

Mor Monsen’s Kaker-Norwegian Christmas Cookies  Yields: 4 dozen bars.  Total prep time: 60 min/  active prep time: 30 min/  baking time: 30 min.   Note: these freeze extra well, to have on hand throughout the holidays.

1 lb plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened

2 c sugar  (Organic is best; available at Costco and Trader Joe’s.)

4 lg eggs

1 tsp vanilla

2 c flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached white flour is ideal; may also grind 1-1/3 c organic soft winter white wheat berries to make 2 c fresh-ground flour.)

distributing currants on dough

1 tsp salt  (Real Salt is important for optimum health; available in nutrition center at local supermarket.)

3/4 c almonds, chopped small (May purchase almond slivers for easy chopping.)

1 c dried currants

A large 11” x 16” cake pan*, or a 12” x 16” jelly roll pan  (May use a 9” x 11” pan, in addition to a 9” x 9” square pan.)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Grease pan-see optional sizes listed above-with 2 tbsp butter; set aside.
  3. Cream pound of butter with sugar, until light and fluffy, using an electric mixer.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition; mix in vanilla.
  4. distributing almonds on top of currants

    Blend flour and salt easily, by shaking vigorously in a sealed gallon-size storage bag; then, add this to butter mixture, beating only until all is incorporated, to keep cookies from toughening; set aside.

  5. Chop almonds fine with a sharp knife, or use a food processor, by repeatedly pressing down on the pulse button, cutting any big chunks in half with a sharp knife.  Set aside.
  6. Spread batter evenly on greased pan; sprinkle surface FIRST with currants; see photo in list of ingredients; then, distribute almond pieces over the top of these; see photo above.  Press nuts and currants down into batter slightly with fingers, so they are embedded; see photo below.  (This keeps them from falling off the baked bars in crumbles.)
  7. Bake for 20-35 minutes, or until golden brown, time varies with pan-size.
  8. While bars are still hot-using an 11” x 16” pan-cut 4 rows across the width and 6 rows across the length; then, cut these squares in half; see photo of cutting technique at top of recipe.  (Amount of rows may vary with differing pan

    pressing almonds and currants into dough, to embed them before baking

    sizes.)

  9. These freeze really well, to have on hand throughout the holidays.  They are a treat!

1880’s Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies

Ozark honey-oatmeal cookies

My library holds many old cook books, some copyrighted in the 1800’s; I also have a number of facsimiles, exact reproductions of the originals.  These aren’t considered costly with collectors, but are highly valuable to me, with their precise historical evidence required for my work.

A number of these republications help me with my need for early U.S.A. food history.  For instance one illuminates the 18th century: American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons; this was the first truly U.S. cook book, with such strictly American dishes as Indian pudding, Indian slapjack (pancakes), and johnnycake (flat corn cakes).  All early cook books, that were published on our soil, prior to this 1796 publication, were actually reprints of English cook books, none of which contained American ingredients such as: cranberries, clams, cornmeal, shad (fish of the genus Alosa), terrapin (turtles), etc.  Interestingly, recipe books were not in demand in our young country, where rivaling colonial plantations jealously guarded their family’s treasured receipts, and rich city dwellers adhered to their individual Old World cooking traditions.

In a recent cooking class, I taught Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies from one of my facsimiles: the Silver Dollar City Edition of Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book, by Maria Parloa, which Washburn-Crosby Co. published in Boston originally, in 1880.  Its facsimile was issued at an unknown date during the 20th century, by General Mills, the successor to Washburn-Crosby Co.  Access the fascinating history of Maria Parloa, her cook books, these two flour mills, and this period cuisine at my following entries: 1800’s Escalloped Salmon (2017/04/17), 1880’s Minced Cabbage (2017/04/24), and 1880’s Clam Chowder (2017/01/30).

These cookies call for shortening; its definition is fat used in cooking, made from animal, vegetable, or compound manufactured substances.  Examples of the latter are margarine, discovered in France in 1869, and Crisco, which is a hydrogenated vegetable oil, created in America in 1911; Crisco usually comes to mind when shortening is mentioned today.

The term shortening, however, first surfaced in the early half of 18th century; it is considered to be American.  As far as cook books are concerned, it appeared in several of Amelia Simmons’ recipes in American Cookery, 1796, such as johnnycake and “another plain cake”, though she doesn’t define the word.

In the April 6, 1892 edition, the New York Times promoted Cottolene, as a “New Shortening…a vegetable product far superior to anything else for shortening and frying purposes”.  This, the first hydrogenated vegetable oil, was primarily used as a cooking medium, in some households.

In June of 1911, Procter and Gamble began selling hydrogenated cottonseed oil, as Crisco (short for “crystallized cottonseed oil”); they discovered this shortening in their quest to generate a raw material for soap, through a technique that had its origins in 1897 France.  Because of an intense promotional campaign, it became the first popular national shortening product of its kind (this ingredient is extremely prevalent in 20th century recipes).  To this day, Crisco remains the best known brand for this item in the U.S.; there are other well-known brands in a number of other countries.

These Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies allow for a healthy means to satisfy our sweet tooth, for they are made with such powerful foods as: organic oats, semi-sweet chocolate chips, organic raisins, unsweetened coconut flakes, pumpkin seeds, nuts, raw honey…In place of refined sugar, I use the healthy alternative coconut sugar.  The recipe from this 1880’s cook book calls for shortening, which probably referred to either butter or lard initially, though those baking from its facsimile, in the 20th century, would have used then popular Crisco; I leave this choice up to you.

This recipe is easy to make and is extremely good!  Enjoy.

References:

  1. Facsimile of Amelia Simmons, American Cookery, 1796 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), pp. 57, 58.
  2. Silver Dollar City Edition of Maria Parloa, Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book (Minneapolis: Washburn-Crosby Co., 1880); this facsimile was reproduced by General Mills at an unknown date  in the 20th century.
  3. Esther B. Aresty, The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964), pp. 183-186.
  4. http://www.foodtimeline.org/shortening.html
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shortening

mixing oatmeal into dough in stages

1880’s Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies  Adapted from a recipe in General Mills’ 20th century Special Silver Dollar City Edition of Maria Parloa, Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1880).  Yields: 4 1/2 dozen.  Total prep time: 1 hr.

1 3/4 cup flour  (May grind 1 1/3 cups organic hard red spring wheat berries-I choose this berry for its high protein content-this makes 2 cups of flour; BE SURE to remove 1/4 cup of flour, after it is ground, for the required 1 3/4 cup.)

1/2 cup butter, or shortening

1 1/4 cup sugar  (I use coconut sugar for its health benefits.)

2 large eggs

1/3 cup honey

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt  (Real Salt is important for health; available in nutrition center at local supermarket.)

2 cups oats  (Organic is only slightly more expensive; so much healthier.)

1/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes  (Available inexpensively in bulk at our local Winco.)

1/3 cup pumpkin seeds

1/3 cup nuts, chopped

1/3 cup raisins  (Organic is important; available reasonably at Trader’s.)

1/2 cup chocolate chips  (High quality, semi-sweet chocolate chips are available at Trader Joe’s.)

Parchment paper, wax paper, and 2 cookie sheets

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. If grinding your own flour, begin to do so now.
  3. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar with a fork; beat in eggs, one at a time; blend in honey.
  4. placing dough on parchment paper

    Stir salt and baking soda into flour in another large bowl.  (May place these ingredients in a sealed gallon-size storage bag and shake vigorously.)

  5. Mix this flour mixture into the shortening/sugar/eggs; do not over beat the dough, as this makes cookies tough.
  6. Stir coconut, pumpkin seeds, nuts, chocolate chips, and raisins into this mixture, distributing evenly.
  7. Mix half the oats into this dough gently (see photo at top of recipe); add other half; stir with a large rubber spatula or spoon, just until blended.
  8. Using a teaspoon, drop dough 2 inches apart on parchment-paper-covered cookie sheet, shaping rounds roughly with fingers, as you go (see above photo).
  9. Place pan in preheated oven for about 9-10 minutes, or until golden brown.
  10. Meanwhile start a second pan, by shaping dough on another piece of parchment paper.
  11. When first pan is done, immediately start baking this second pan.
  12. cookies baked to perfection

    Cool baked cookies on cookie sheet for 2 minutes.  Remove and place them on a large piece of wax paper (see photo).

  13. Using a new piece of parchment paper, prepare the third pan of cookies, to be ready for the oven as soon as second batch is done; repeat until all the dough is used.  (Pans should be cool before spooning dough on them.)
  14. These freeze well, to have on hand for healthy snacks.