Blueberry Crumble Bars

Corn.  Cattle.  Pella Windows.  Dutch letters.  Red covered bridges of Madison County (somewhere my initials are carved into one).  Elk Horn’s Danish windmill.  Butter sculptures at the the state fair.  Moths as big as birds.  Fishing in my aunt and uncle’s backyard.  The Hawkeyes.  The best writers’ workshop in America.  Glenn Miller, John Wayne, Johnny Carson, Donna Reed.  Electrical storms in summer.  Fireflies.  Farm life. These are a few of the things that come to mind when I think of Iowa.

Well, that and bars.  By which I mean bar shaped baked goods–the treats that make the Midwest go round.  Iowans love them.  I love them.  And as a woman with strong family roots there, I felt it my duty to finally post about them.  Most tend to be of the chocolate variety, but mine are blueberry.

This morning at the greengrocer’s my four year old chided me.  “Blueberries aren’t in season, mommy.”  I trained her too well.  “That’s right, darling.  In England they’re not, but lucky for us they are in . . . (I picked up a carton and read the label) Spain.”  “Morocco too.”  I needed a few more cartons and the Spanish ones ran out.

Below is my blueberry bar recipe.  It’s a crumbly one with notes of almond and fresh lemon.  As the sky was so blue today and the sun so warm, it felt like the most appropriate bar recipe to bake.  I love it as much as my Grandpa Jim loved the Hawkeyes.  My hope is you do too.

where corn is king

ISF-butter-moneybags

Butter sculpture

Me at my Grandmother's

Me at my Grandmother’s

moth

Great-Grandma Evelyn and Great-Grandpa Herman Warren

Great-Grandma Evelyn and Great-Grandpa Herman Warren

The Sorensens

The Sorensens

My grandfather is the boy in the sailor suit.

My grandfather is the boy in the sailor suit.

My aunt and uncle's backyard

My aunt and uncle’s backyard

mama in iowa

at coco's downtown harlan

james warren

Grandpa Jim

 

Ingredients:

For crumble:

1/2 cup caster sugar

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1 cup flour

3/4 cup oatmeal

1/2 cup ground almonds

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

125 grams unsalted butter

1 egg

 

For filling:

4 cups blueberries

1/2 cup caster sugar

juice and zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon cornflour

 

Method:

Preheat oven to Gas 4/ 350F/ 180C.

Lightly butter a small ceramic dish and set aside.  The measurements of mine were 8×12 inches.  If you like lots of crumble, use a smaller dish.  8″ x 8″ would be perfect.

Mix all the ingredients for the crumble, except for the egg, in a large bowl with your fingertips.  Combine until it resembles a fine meal.  Then incorporate the egg.

Place 2/3 of the crumble in the bottom of your dish.  I use my knuckles to push it into place.

Then in another bowl mix the lemon juice, zest, sugar, and cornflour.  Gently stir in the blueberries and coat.

Pour the berry mixture on top of the crumble layer.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 of the crumble on top.

Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown.  Allow the bake to cool completely before cutting into it.  This will give you a better set bar than just a lot of crumble.

baked crumble

blueberry crumble bar

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Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

I don’t eat rhubarb though I’m sure one day I will.  Kind of like “when I am an old woman, I shall wear purple.”  Or as Holly Golightly said about diamonds,”It’s tacky to wear diamonds before you’re 40; and even that’s risky … they only look good on the really old girls … wrinkles and bones, white hair and diamonds.  I can’t wait.”  My sentiments exactly.   With diamond tiaras and crowns of rhubarb in my stars, I look forward to being a woman of a certain age.

My Great-Grandma Sorensen grew rhubarb outside the back door just off the kitchen of her home in Harlan, Iowa.  She loved it, especially with strawberry.  Each summer, she would stock her pantry with strawberry rhubarb jam and cover her windowsill with strawberry rhubarb pies.  My Great-Grandpa had no objections.  For her, strawberry rhubarb was the most winning combination.  For him, he was the biggest winner.  This year, in memory of her, I’m going to pick up where she left off.

Though the distance between what used to be Great-Grandma Inez’s house in Harlan and my in-laws’ in Buckinghamshire is 4,219 miles, there is one thing about these places that’s exactly the same.  The summer rhubarb.  At the far end of my in-laws’ English garden, past the flowerbeds and my daughter, the Weekend Primrose Fairy, who conjures magic with camellias for wounded ladybugs. . . beyond the bramley apple tree laden with blossom that will (fingers crossed) bring us a bumper crop this September. . . after the greenhouse sheltering sweet peas and cherry tomatoes . . . next to the squash, sorrel, and kale. . . is a row of regal scarlet rhubarb.  This weekend I made several crumbles.  Below is the recipe.  I hope you enjoy it.  Actually, I hope my Great-Grandma would have enjoyed it.

Sorensens

primroses

11150390_10153345332766204_8353851400698632507_n

garden bramley apple tree

best blossom rhubarb in the garden rhubarb growing

Ingredients:

fruit filling:

2 stalks of rhubarb, chopped into 1 1/2 – 2 inch pieces

1 1/2 cups strawberries, washed, hulled, and halved

1 teaspoon crystallized ginger, chopped

3 tablespoons brown sugar

crumble topping:

1/3 cup Demerara sugar

1 cup oatmeal

1/4 cup flour

4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

a pinch of salt

Method:

Preheat oven to Gas 5/375ºF/190ºC.

Place the rhubarb and strawberry pieces in a small ceramic baking dish.  Add the brown sugar and crystallized ginger.  Gently stir to mix.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the butter, flour, oatmeal, sugar, and salt.  Rub with your fingertips until it forms a coarse meal.

Sprinkle the topping over the fruit and bake for an hour or until the crumble is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling.

Serve with creme fraiche, Greek yogurt, ice cream or whatever you like.  And to eat it like my Great-Grandma did, be sure to have it with a game of Scrabble.

windowsill crumble

Lemon Icebox Pie

It’s no secret some of my family can be described as country. Some have owned trailers; others homes in Appalachia with dirt floors. Many own guns. Many love 4 wheelers and most have driven at least 60 miles for the nearest good mall. All have grown up on or near a farm. And in case you didn’t know, yes, my mama was 15 years old when she had me.

So while the way of life I just described wasn’t exactly mine when I was growing up in Los Angeles, I still saw and lived it at least once a year. Generally in the summertime when the lightning bug lit fields of Iowa provided my cousins and I with a playground until well after dark. My point is a person cannot escape her past. No matter how hard she tries, the highfalutin schools she attends, or the manners she acquires, some things are inescapable. Like a hankering for icebox pies.
Despite growing up in Hollywood where there are people as unctuous as Texas gold, I could never hide my country roots. I considered multitasking doing anything with curlers in my hair. And even now in London, much to my Scottish mother-in-law’s chagrin, I use Mason jars as opposed to proper drinking glasses. Why? I prefer them. Also, they remind me of running around barefoot in cut summer grass eating icebox pies during the dog days of a prairie summer. You know those days that are so hot and humid walking down the street feels more like wading in lukewarm buttermilk and every living creature stands still waiting for a breeze, even the flowers? That’s American Midwest summer. During this time only icebox pies will do.
A friend of mine’s grandmother, a Kentuckienne named Miss Hampton, used to say the icebox pie was her favourite. When asked why, she replied. “It requires no cookin’. Just an icebox and a vodka and Coke plus a pack of Kools to pass the time.”
     While I love icebox pies, be cautioned. ‘Tis a slippery slope. Just one slice has been known to lead people to droppin’ Gs and addin’ As to thangs. They also lead to a simple kind of happiness. The kind that can only be found in Bobbie Gentry songs, Kodachrome prints from years past, and Great-Grandma’s icebox of course.multitasking-curlers

baldwin sthermie

my sister trying to steal a pigletRight. Enough of nostalgia. It’s time to tie your hair back with your favorite kerchief and get bakin’. Never in the history of ever has an icebox pie made itself.   P1020859

Graham Cracker Crust

Ingredients:

14 graham crackers or 1 packet of Hobnobs

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons melted butter

Method:

In a food processor, pulse all the dry ingredients until they become a fine meal.  Slowly add the melted butter and pulse some more.  Pour the mixture into a 9″ tart tin and press it evenly against the bottom of the dish as well as up the sides.  I use the bottom of a measuring cup to help.  Place the tart tin on a tray and bake for 5-8 minutes at 350°F/170°C/Gas 3 or just until slightly crisp.

shell

Graham Cracker Trash Lemon Icebox Pie

Ingredients:

1 graham cracker crust  (if you don’t have graham crackers use HobNobs)

2 (14 oz.) cans of sweetened condensed milk

1 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

the zest of 4 lemons

8 large egg yolks

Method:

Heat the oven to 325°F/170°C/Gas 3.

Put the crust into a 9″ tart tin.  I like to use a measuring cup to help me do this.  I use the bottom of the cup to spread the crust evenly and to tamp it down as well as to help shape the sides.

Whisk the milk with lemon juice and set aside.

lemon juice and condensed milk

Whisk the zest into the yolks until the mixture goes pale.  This takes no more than a minute.

yolks and zest

Now whisk the milk mixture into egg mixture.

Pour into the tart shell and bake for 30 minutes or until the center is set like a soft custard.

pre-bake

Cool completely then freeze overnight or at least 6 hours.

freezing

Remove the pie from the freezer 15 minutes before serving.  Top with chantilly cream and enjoy.

out of the freezer

Chantilly Cream

Ingredients:

2 cups cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla (I like to use vanilla bean paste)

1/4 cup powdered sugar

whipped cream ingredients

Method:

Mix ingredients on medium high until desired consistency is achieved.  Be sure not to over-mix or you’ll end up with butter.

cream

lemon icebox pie