Saturday, May 3, 2008

Old fashioned raisin bars and what comfort means

I made these last week to feed the gardeners at work. The recipe was on a photocopied page in the handwritten book of recipes my mother gave me shortly after I left South Africa. I didn't know I was leaving. She did. The photocopy is from a page of the March, 1997 edition of House and Leisure, the magazine whose food editor my mother was for a number of years. I'm not sure how I feel, now, about our family recipes being there, on those pages; lucky, certainly, to have the record, but they should be a book: the legs of lamb, Colonel Bird's beef with coffee, the old-fashioned raisin bars. Recipes become memory and eaten again and again at so many times and with such different experiences brought to each familiar mouthful, at separations, sometimes of years. I feel the food, its preparation, the styling for the gorgeous photos of each meal, were done with an integrity and taste too refined for the people who commissioned them in the first place.

My mother's cooking, her way of seeing and creating, are extraordinary, and have given me both a heritage to quote, and roots from which to grow. Her gardens, her dinners, her enviable, simple one-plate lunches, her salads (none better, not even Al di La's) - are uncommonly beautiful. Funny, I started to write about cookies and landed up writing about my mother. Hello Mommy. I blame cinnamon, and the amygdalae.

Here are the cookies, my favourites when I was a little girl and when two big glass cookie jars stood near the back door in the kitchen, every now and then going ke-chink, as a lid was lifted and replaced, sometimes very quietly and carefully, triggering my mother to yell from down the passage, "Neeeeeeeeeeeeeeil!!!" as the swift-footed, though fat neighbour-boy made off with his haul...

I happened to have all the ingredients to hand, including a bag of lovely little currants from Sahadi's. I didn't have ground allspice or ground cloves but had them whole, and so cheated by infusing the currant-water with them, pictures below. I've now stocked up on all the spices, reminding myself of a story by Rumer Godden, whose books are, unbelieveably, given their magical charm and erudition, out of print. But that's another post. Hm: Oscar Wilde's gorgeous children's stories fall into the same category. Note to self.


Whole cloves and allspice infusing. Don't do this at home.

All mixed and in tray pre-baking.

Fifteen minutes later.

After icing.

And the next morning, for breakfast, with really good coffee.

160 gr raisins (or currants)
1 cup water
1/2 a cup sunflower oil
200 gr sugar
1 lightly beaten egg
220 gr cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon bicarb (baking soda)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 a teaspoon allspice [that was where I cheated and infused]
1/4 teaspoon cloves
70 gr chopped pecans

Heat oven to 375'F (190'C). Heat raisins/currants and water in a saucepan to boiling point. Remove from heat and stir in the oil. Cool to lukewarm. Stir in the sugar and the egg (if it is still too hot the egg will scramble, blegh). Sift dry ingredients(I never do, lazy) into a bowl and pour in wet ingredients. Stir in the nuts. Now, "Pour into a greased Swiss roll tin," says the recipe. This is sweet. I don't know if people would know them as Swiss roll tins anymore. Except perhaps in the Midwest, or Martha-world? We knew them, because we were fed freshly-made Swiss rolls stuffed with apricot jam and sugary on the outside, then, for special dessert. Those were in the days of sit-down lunches. Father in suit, children in school uniforms. Doris Day singing in the kitchen. Milk to drink. MILK!!!

Back to the cookies; Now, a rectangular cookie tin with sides about half an inch high will do. Bake for 12-16 minutes until a skewer comes out clean, or a finger pressed leaves no dent (that's my instruction. Scientific, hey?) When cool, ice with water icing made with lemon juice instead of icing sugar. This is key. About a cup of powdered sugar to half a lemon, more or less. Slice into squares in pan, I don't know why I turned mine out to cool. They are easy to lift out square by square.

Try not to eat them all at once. They are good for everything. Stress, sadness, an excess of concentration or exertion. And brilliant for breakfast.


  1. The way you talk about recipes and cooking, along with a beautiful text read out loud to me to soothe my nerves, make me catch a glimpse of magic. Other glimpses I caught in a kitchen on Henry St, and many others still, in sunny Constantia... Thank you. :-)

  2. That's very sweet. Thank you...

  3. Found your page and piece through a wonderful bit of serendipity. I was trying to find a raisin bar treat from my past and before I started getting hits for what I was looking for, I found your article and recipe.

    I am glad I did because yours looks quite scrumptious and doable for someone like me with only rudimentary kitchen skills. I look forward to trying them out.

    The search (“raisin-filled cookie bar”) finally yielded the "Sunshine Golden Fruit Raisin Biscuit" (see: ).

    Though discontinued, it revealed a virtually identical product available here:

    I also found several online recipes that appear to be close to these as well. I hope you don't mind my including them. I’ll remember to report back after I’ve tried to make some of these.

    I got interested in these treats because a co-worker crafts some of the most decorative and delicious cookies and bring them in for us to try (see: ).

    Warm regards!

    1. i HAVE BEEN DYING FOR THE Sunshine brand ones too and could not for the life of me remember the name of the company. thx so much for posting these links! maybe i will find something close!
      :) Debbie


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