A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from April 28, 2005
Nanaimo Bar Mystery (New York Bars?)
Does the famous Nanaimo bar come from New York? Must I solve every mystery for you, for free in my spare time?

Some say the recipe goes back to the 1930s, perhaps from a recipe called Chocolate Fridge Cake that may have appeared in the Vancouver Sun newspaper. Despite searches, no evidence yet supports this connection, or at least it has not gone under the name "Nanaimo Bar(s)." Others hold that it comes from New York in the 1930s. Still others say it goes back to the coal-mining days of early Nanaimo, when it was sent to the miners from their friends and relatives in the United Kingdom as a gift; once more, no evidence is available to support this theory. The miners who came to the west coast of Canada were, for the most part, from Northern England, and no recipe like Nanaimo Bar can be traced to these locations. In short, this coal-mining connection is almost certainly legend rather than fact, and suited to promote Nanaimo's heritage. Other believe it was brought by Dutch settlers in early 1900s; no evidence has been found to support this, and it is a suspect origin.

Carol Ferguson, author of the cookbook "A Century of Canadian Home Cooking" (1992), suggests that the recipe was first called "Nanaimo Bar" in the Vancouver Sun newspaper in the early 1950s (though no evidence yet supports this), having derived from recipes published in a "The Women's Auxiliary to the Nanaimo Hospital Cook Book" (1952). The latest research shows that there is a clear connection between a recipe in this 1952 "Nanaimo Hospital Cook Book" and the c.1957-58 "Brechin United Church" recipe - they are the same recipe. The difference is that in the "Nanaimo Hospital Book" it is called "Chocolate Slice" (submitted by Mrs. E. MacDougall), not "Nanaimo Bars." There is also be an intermediary recipe that appears in 1955 in Victoria, British Columbia, in a cookbook published by St. Aidan's United Church - it is called "Mrs. Gayton's Bars" and is more or less identical to the other two recipes. The mystery remains: When was this recipe dubbed the "Nanaimo Bars"?

Below is a list of possible Nanaimo Bar ancestors and descendants, with year and source. Unless the recipe is very close to a recognized, genuine Nanaimo Bar recipe, it is not included. A question mark ("?") indicates an unsubstantiated date or source. If you have any leads, or copies of the following, please contact us.

1936? CHOCOLATE FRIDGE CAKE: Vancouver Sun?
1940s? MIRACLE BARS: unknown origin
1950-55? NAMAO NIBBLINGS: Cookbook published by Officers' Wives of RCAF Station Namao (Edmonton)?
1950s? GEORGIA STREET SLICES: Successful Farming Magazine?
1950s? DOMINOES/DOMINO BARS: Dairy Farmers of Canada?
1950s? NEW YORKER: source unknown
1952 CHOCOLATE SQUARES: Women's Auxiliary to the Nanaimo Hospital Cook Book
1952 CHOCOLATE SLICE: Women's Auxiliary to the Nanaimo Hospital Cook Book
1955 MRS. GAYTON'S BARS: St. Aidan's United Church Cook Book (Victoria, BC)
1957? UNBAKED TEATIME BARS: Farmers Magazine (April 1957)?

Other related confections:

CORMY BARS: date and source unknown;
DEVON CREAMS: date and source unknown;
DOMINION BARS: date and source unknown;
EDMONTON ESKS: date unknown, Edmonton;
FLANAGAN'S FANCIES: date unknown, England;
LG (Lazy Gourmet) BARS: date and source unknown;
LONDON FOG BARS: date and source unknown;
NEW YORK DREAM BARS: date and source unknown;
NEW YORKERS: date and source unknown;
NEW YORK SLICES: date and source unknown;
RIBBON SQUARES: date and source unknown.
THREE SLICE BAR date unknown (Illinois?)

18 January 1954, Lethbridge (Alberta, Canada) Herald, pg. 11, col. 5:
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
5 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 cups graham wafer crumbs
1 cup coconut
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Place softened butter, sugar, cocoa, vanilla and egg in bowl. Set the bowl in a dish of boiling water. Stir well until butter has melted and mixture resembles thin custard.

Combine graham wafer crumbs, coconut and nuts, blending well. Add to custard mixture. Pack evenly in 9-inch square pan, spread with icing.

Icing - Cream 1/4 cup butter, add 3 tablespoons milk which has been combined with 2 tablespoons vanilla custard powder. Blend in 2 cups icing sugar. Spread over chocolate base, let stand about 15 minutes or so to harden somewhat.

Then melt 4 square semi-sweet chocolate with 1 tablespoon butter and spread over custard icing. When set, cut into bars.

8 July 1965, Los Angeles Times, pg. D12:
Bars Make
Cool Dessert
"As a pastor's wife in Canada, I was served these Nanaimo Bars," writes Mrs. Jane Sandberg. "They are very easy to make as they are not baked but chilled. They are a rich and delicious dessert."

3/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 tbsp. instant vanilla pudding mix
3 tbsp. milk
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
3 sq. semi-sweet chocolate
1 tbsp. butter

Melt 1/2 cup butter in saucepan. Blend in granulated sugar, cocoa, vanilla, egg, crumbs, coconut and nuts. Press mixture into a 9-in. square pan. Cream 1/4 cup butter until light and add dry pudding mix, milk and confectioners' sugar, blending well. Spread mixture on top of crumb mixture and chill thoroughly. Melt chocolate with 1 tbsp. butter, stirring to blend. Spread over chilled mixture. Chill, then cut into bars.

Jeanette St.,

5 May 1966, Chicago Herald, pg. 58(?):
Mrs. Brown has two favorites, and both are recipes that her mother brought home from Canada. One is called Nanaimo Squares, the other Coconut Bars.

"The Nanaimo Squares are a frozen dessert and are so rich they almost taste like candy," Mrs. Brown said.

THE SQUARES have a firm bottom layer flavored with cocoa, coconut and chopped walnuts. This is topped by a delicious butter cream mixture which in turn has bitter chocolate spread over all.
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
1 cup fine coconut
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups crushed graham crackers
Place the first four ingredients in a pan over low heat, stirring constantly until butter melts. Cool , add remaining ingredients. Mix well. Press firmly into an 8-inch square pan.

Prepare the following filling
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons vanilla custard pudding mix
3 tablespoons milk
2 cups confectioners' sugar
Cream butter. Soak custard powder in milk. Add alternately with the sugar in the butter. Spread on top of chocolate base in pan.

Prepare the following toopping.
1 tablespoon butter
3 squares bitter chocolate
Melt butter and chocolate over low heat. Pour over the filling. Chill. Yield: 36 squares. This will freeze nicely, Cut into squares before freezing.

7 April 1977, Lethbridge (Alberta, Canada) Herald, pg. 20, col. 4:
So the eight Calgary women, members of a bridge club that met weekly, spiced their book, available locally for 7.95, with jokes and riddles to encourage a few chuckles from the cooks in the kitchen.
They also included their favorite recipes, collected from friends and relatives over the years, such as Grampa Mac's Oyster Stew, Isla's Icing or Verna's Chocolate Squares.

Mona's Mothers's Mother's Best Friend's Favorite (sic), given below, and George (commonly known as Nanaimo Bars) were also given.

"We thought we'd liven the book up with a few jokes and a few of these recipes," says Mary Korman, a member of the group.

The recipe George came to the group by way of a freind's mother, she says.

Whenever she made her squares, the children would always say, "This is real George, mom," an expression meaning 'terrific'.
The recipe for George is as follows:

First layer:
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 beaten egg
2 cups graham wafer crumbs
1 cup coconut
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Combine, put in nine-inch square pan and chill for 1/2 hour.
Second layer:
2 cups icing sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup cream or milk
2 tab lespoons custard powder
Combine all ingredients, beating until smooth and fluffy. Then spread carefully on top of first layer.
Third layer:
3 chocolate squares (sweet or semi-sweet)
1/4 cup butter, melted

Melt chocolate and butter together, then spread over second layer and chill.

Posted by Barry Popik
Food/Drink • (3) Comments • Thursday, April 28, 2005 • Permalink

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