Though I didn’t spend much time in the kitchen with either of my grandmothers, I enjoy remembering them by making the recipes that they left behind. For Mother’s Day this year, I wanted something sweet and brightly flavored, so I pulled out Apricot Bars from Grandma Bertie. Her typewritten recipe isn’t attributed to anyone, nor does it list a cookbook as its source, so perhaps she developed it herself. Its shortbread base reminds me of lemon bars but its apricot topping adds an unexpected flavor. The fruit is sandwiched between a crunchy, buttery bottom and a golden, egg-and-sugar laced top. This one is a keeper. Happy Mother’s Day to all!
Grandma Bertie’s Apricot Bars (circa 1960)
Makes 16 squares
For the base:
cup granulated sugar
cup (1 stick) butter
For the filling:
cup cooked apricots
teaspoon baking powder
cup brown sugar, firmly packed
To make the base: Sift the flour and sugar together. Cut in the butter. Pat down quickly into an 8 or 9 inch square pan (ungreased). Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool.
To make the filling: Wash the apricots well, cut into slivers with scissors, and cook 5 minutes with 3-4 tablespoons water. [Alternately, use dried apricots. Cut into slivers, place in a pot, and add water to cover. Simmer 5-10 minutes until soft.] With either method, set aside to cool before continuing the recipe.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Add the sugar gradually and beat until thick. Add the vanilla and apricots.
Add the sifted dry ingredients with a wooden spoon, cutting through quickly so that the apricots will be well distributed throughout the batter.
Pour onto the cooled base and bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes or until golden brown and set in the center.
When cool, cut into squares. Dust with icing [confectioner’s] sugar, optional.
Warm days and cold nights keep the sap in sugar maple trees flowing. In New England, Native Americans taught settlers how to slash tree trunks and extract the sap to use as a sweetener. These buckets from a local farm are collecting sap near my house, a sure sign of spring! Once the buckets are emptied, boiling begins. It takes about 35 gallons of sap to create one gallon of syrup.
Hardy New Englanders pour maple syrup right onto a bowlful of spring snow, but I wanted something warm so I tried a Maine Maple Brown Betty from Wild Maine Recipes by Kate Krukowski Gooding (Northern Solstice Publishing, 2007). I liked her variation on a traditional brown betty recipe, with maple oozing from every spoonful. With a breakfast like this, who needs pancakes?
Maine Maple Brown Betty
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup graham flour [I couldn’t find this, so I used whole wheat flour]
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon mace
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup pecans [the recipe calls for maple-roasted, but I skipped this step]
3 tablespoons maple syrup
4 cups apples, peeled and sliced (preferably Northern Spy or Granny Smith)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Combine the brown sugar, oats, flours, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, pecans and butter. Stir with a fork until well-mixed and crumbly.
Layer one third of the apples, then one third of the crumb mixture in a greased, 7 x 11 inch [I used 8 x 8 inch] baking dish. Repeat until all apples and crumb mixture are added.
Pour water over the mixture and bake for 30 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream [I used plain yogurt].
In between a one-two-three punch of snowstorms, I pulled out The Russian Tea Room: A Tasting (Clarkson Potter, 1993), a book of recipes and reminiscences from then-owner, Faith Stewart-Gordon. I never went to the Manhattan restaurant but its tea (and everything else on the menu) is steeped in history. Continue reading →
For a dessert to end 2018, I found a recipe with just eight ingredients, all of them pantry staples: butter, two kinds of sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, chocolate, and nuts. The shortbread base with melted chocolate and nuts on top looks good and tastes appropriately decadent for a New Year’s party. The recipe comes from a classic Richmond cookbook, The Stuffed Cougar (William Byrd Press, 1973). Continue reading →
Who remembers the English folk song that starts, “Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green”? That’s what I hummed when I saw the recipe for Cider Wassail in The Blue Ridge Cookbook. Continue reading →
Just in time for Thanksgiving, my neighbor organized a pie swap. Each of us baked a pie, then sliced it up and shared a sample with the other participants. For ideas, I looked through handwritten recipes from my grandmother and baker extraordinaire, Bertie. At first all I could find was a cheese pie, which specified using “Swiss cheese from Switzerland” – perhaps an exotic ingredient in the 1930s and 1940s, when she collected most of the recipes. A more careful look yielded the far more seasonal Fresh Cranberry Orange Pie. Continue reading →
You won’t find too many sumptuous meals in Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy in the Civil War. You will find two women gardening to supplement their meager larder in Secrets in a House Divided, the historical novel I just published Continue reading →