Aunt Ella's Lemon Bars

Crust
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ cup confectioner's sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
Filling
  • 4 eggs
  • 1½ cups cane sugar
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 1/4 plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together the flour and confectioners' sugar in a 13-by- 9-inch baking pan lined with parchment paper; add the melted butter, mixing lightly to combine. Press butter crust down into the pan evenly. Transfer to the middle rack of the oven. Bake until light golden, about 18 minutes. Remove from oven; set aside to cool.
  2.    Whisk the eggs in a large mixing bowl;      whisk in the cane sugar, zest and lemon juice; set aside. 
  3.   Stir together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl; whisk into filling just until blended. Spread filling over crust.
  4.  Bake until firm and top beginning to brown, about 25 minutes. Dust top with confectioners' sugar. Cool on wire rack 5 minutes; cut lemon bars into 1 1/2-inch- by-2- inch squares.
  5. Remove from pan; cool completely on rack. Makes about 2 dozen.
Aunt Ella's Lemon Bars

Crust
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ cup confectioner's sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
Filling
  • 4 eggs
  • 1½ cups cane sugar
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 1/4 plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together the flour and confectioners' sugar in a 13-by- 9-inch baking pan lined with parchment paper; add the melted butter, mixing lightly to combine. Press butter crust down into the pan evenly. Transfer to the middle rack of the oven. Bake until light golden, about 18 minutes. Remove from oven; set aside to cool.
  2.    Whisk the eggs in a large mixing bowl;      whisk in the cane sugar, zest and lemon juice; set aside. 
  3.   Stir together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl; whisk into filling just until blended. Spread filling over crust.
  4.  Bake until firm and top beginning to brown, about 25 minutes. Dust top with confectioners' sugar. Cool on wire rack 5 minutes; cut lemon bars into 1 1/2-inch- by-2- inch squares.
  5. Remove from pan; cool completely on rack. Makes about 2 dozen.
Aunt Ella's Lemon Bars

Crust
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ cup confectioner's sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
Filling
  • 4 eggs
  • 1½ cups cane sugar
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 1/4 plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together the flour and confectioners' sugar in a 13-by- 9-inch baking pan lined with parchment paper; add the melted butter, mixing lightly to combine. Press butter crust down into the pan evenly. Transfer to the middle rack of the oven. Bake until light golden, about 18 minutes. Remove from oven; set aside to cool.
  2.    Whisk the eggs in a large mixing bowl;      whisk in the cane sugar, zest and lemon juice; set aside. 
  3.   Stir together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl; whisk into filling just until blended. Spread filling over crust.
  4.  Bake until firm and top beginning to brown, about 25 minutes. Dust top with confectioners' sugar. Cool on wire rack 5 minutes; cut lemon bars into 1 1/2-inch- by-2- inch squares.
  5. Remove from pan; cool completely on rack. Makes about 2 dozen.

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 More Than Just A Recipe 

The Recipe Swap 

A 1950s Picnic Memory


​We were strangers nodding polite greetings as we stood inside the compact glass shelter of the King Drive bus stop in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. She reached inside the small grocery bag on her arm and pulled out a three-pack strip of dry yeast to show me the results of her shopping trip. It was the same specific brand my grandmother had taught me to use decades ago in Mobile, Alabama.

​Within minutes of our greeting, Mrs. James, a very elegant older woman, and I were no longer strangers waiting for the long overdue #3 bus.   “It’s the last ingredient I need for I begin the dough for my roll recipe, the potatoes are already boiled,” Mrs. James said, after explaining that she was waiting for a bus to drop her at the front door of her senior living complex, about six blocks away. “Potatoes?”


“Meeting you answered a long-standing prayer. I don’t have a daughter, but now I know the family recipes we brought North will live on. They’re in good hands with you…”















“My grandmother taught me to add potato water along with milk to the roll dough. It makes a big difference to the texture,” she said, putting one finger up to her mouth after revealing her  grandmother’s cooking secret…”Shhhh.” We both laughed.

 In exchange for her big reveal, I mentioned my grandmother’s closely held tip, using my fingers to demonstrate the way Granny taught me to press tiny pieces of butter into the fold of Parker House roll dough before placing them on the baking sheet. “Not too big; not too small,” I said, before mimicking Mrs. James’…“Shhhh.”I was headed to the annual African Festival at Washington Park and I invited her to join me. “I’m going to interview food vendors for articles I’m writing for the Chicago Tribune and Upscale Magazine,” I said.

“I can’t,” she said. “There are too many people back at my building waiting for me to make progress with these rolls.”That summer afternoon, during our wait on Chicago’s King Drive, we discovered we had both learned to love cooking as little girls at our grandmother’s side. We also discovered that we were now each a mother to only one child, a son. Neither of whom liked to cook.“Mine is much older,” Mrs. James volunteered after I described my son as home from college on summer break. “I’m 92 years old,” she whispered. 

When we were finally seated on the southbound bus, I scribbled my home line on the back of a business card and told Mrs. James I would love to continue our discussion… at her convenience. She smiled and slipped the card in her purse. “I’ll remember you,” she nodded my way as she pulled the string to request the next stop. 

​A month later, I received a big padded envelope in the mail with Mrs. James’ name on the return address. “Meeting you answered a long-standing prayer. I don’t have a daughter, but now I know the family recipes we brought North will live on. They’re in good hands with you,” she wrote.

Potato salad flecked with onions and so expertly seasoned with celery and bell pepper it forever set the standard for any picnic since highlights my first vivid memory. I was 4-years old.   For my sister, Carolyn, and me, the morning began with a bath in the room that separated our back bedroom, overlooking the Dalton Vocational School’s working farm, from our parent’s front bedroom, which faced the two-story brick high school still mandated for “Negro” students by the State of Missouri.​

Carolyn and I waited to finally put on the matching short sets our mother had spent the past week sewing. But because a morning chill hung over the Chariton County community; our mother made other plans. The colorful harlequin-patterned short sets would have to wait until afternoon, she informed us. Until then, we were instructed to pull on our corduroy trousers and make the best of things. Carolyn and I took this change of plans differently. While I collapsed in sobs, grabbed a pillow and hurled myself across the bed, my sister, who isnow an attorney, calmly pleaded our case. Since Mom eventually compromised on us wearing ardigan sweaters over our short sets, I guess this marks the day Carolyn won her first case.

“That picnic would be Dalton’s last. The Supreme Court’s ruling on integration had taken place more than a year before….. Looking back, there were no obvious clues to this picnic’s significance. I simply remember sweet, hopeful laughter of men,women and young people turning freshly butchered chickens and ribs over an open pit…”



     


       


       That picnic would be Dalton’s last. The Supreme Court’s ruling on integration had taken place more than a year before. Soon long school bus trips would become unnecessary for many of the students who would go on to integrate rural schools closer to home where they had previously been unwelcome. The property housing the school and faculty homes would later be sold at an auction.

Looking back, there were no obvious clues to this picnic’s significance. I simply remember sweet, hopeful laughter of men, women and young people turning freshly butchered chickens and ribs over an open pit and brushing the poultry and meat with sauce created from inherited plantation recipes.

 A big black kettle country beans had been set up near tables lined with bowls of potato salad, coleslaw and platters filled with yeast-raised rolls and beaten biscuits. Peach cobbler, banana cream and lemon meringue pies lined the table, where at its end, under a tree, sweet old ladies ladled hand-pressed lemonade from graniteware tubs. Half a century later, a black-and- white photograph mounted in an old family album, bears witness to proud, happy families breaking bread on the well-kept campus. In one picture, my
dashing, young father smiles at the camera while my 20-something mother cradles the new baby, Muriel Jean. (My brother, Eliot Jr. was born the next year.)

A close look at the photograph reveals sleeves from two tiny sweaters curled around my mother’s arm under the baby blanket. Bare arms entwined, Carolyn and I look triumphant in another photo. My eyes are still puffy from crying. Crumbs trickle down our chins. Our tummies puff out giving us a well-fed look. We were indeed well fed in more ways than one…  well fed with love and confidence from that Dalton Vocational School community.

​Today, my brother describes the generation of African-American children for whom these heroes who stirred history during the Civil Rights movement, as “standing on the shoulders of giants.” And I don’t take for granted that my very first memory in life came with a soul food menu.

Unforgettable Family & Friends…

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