One year Jerri’s mother gave her a cookbook compiled by the Farm Bureau Women of Butler County, Kansas. Jerri grew up in Butler County, which is the largest county in Kansas and larger than the state of Rhode Island.
Butler County doesn’t have quite the same population density as Rhode Island, of course, but there are several thousand people living there in a couple dozen cities and small communities or on farms and ranches in the Flint Hills, famous as the largest remaining region of tall grass prairie in the United States. The Kansas Turnpike leads you over the Flint Hills, which extend from northern Kansas down into Oklahoma, but the highest point in the Flint Hills is in Butler county at 1,680 feet above sea level.
I don’t know if it was the high point or not, but Jerri drove me a half mile from her home in Rosalia one evening to show me the lights of El Dorado, thirteen miles to the west, from a hill that was at least twenty feet high.
I now look forward to our Kansas trips because they take us through the Flint Hills. If you plan a visit to Kansas, I recommend April or May when the hills are green. That’s the best time to enjoy viewing the thousands of beef cattle grazing on the slopes, the cottonwoods and osage orange trees along the streams and the ranch houses miles away in the valleys below you.
The Farm Bureau women were an important part of Butler County society when Jerri was growing up, and she recognizes many of the names in the cookbook. One of them is Betty Stucky, because she and her husband bought the farmhouse that Jerri’s family moved to from Moundridge, Kansas when her father decided to raise beef cattle instead of farming wheat.
Her family moved into Rosalia after a couple of years, but her father continued to graze cattle until after we were married. Jerri remembers the “farm” clearly because she would tag along with her brothers who drove out daily to milk the cows when she was six or seven years old.
The family renting the farmhouse at that time had a daughter about Jerri’s age that she liked to play with. One time when she was playing with Ruth Ann, Jerri deliberately stayed out of sight when her brothers finished the chores. They drove home five miles only to be sent back by their mother with instructions to find their sister.
After her first success, Jerri repeated the strategy a few more times. It ended when she told a friend at school how she managed to stay later at Ruth Ann’s. The friend told her father, who was the preacher at their church. He told Jerri’s mother and father, and such shenanigans ended shortly.
Jerri has made these bars many times, often for potlucks or funeral lunches. She likes it because you use only one pan to mix the batter, so if you like to wash cooking dishes, skip this recipe.
But they do taste good.
1 cup raisins
1 cup water
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Put the raisins and water into a two-quart saucepan and bring it to boiling. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the shortening. Cool the mixture to lukewarm. Preheat the oven to 350º and grease a 15 1/2 by 10 1/2-inch baking pan while the raisins are cooling.
Beat the sugar and egg into the lukewarm mixture.
Sift the dry ingredients together and beat them by half-cupfuls into the raisin mixture. Stir in the vanilla and chopped walnuts.
Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake on a center shelf for twelve minutes or until done. Test for doneness by pressing gently near the center of the pan. If the surface springs back up, the bars are done.
Cool to room temperature, dust lightly with powdered sugar and cut into bars.
This recipe makes about four dozen bars.
NOTES: Betty noted that you can frost the bars if you wish.
We don’t own a 15 1/2 by 10 1/2-inch pan, so Jerri bakes them in a regular 9 by 13-inch cake pan. This produces thicker bars, so you will have to bake them a few minutes longer. Incidentally, Jerri added the vanilla to the original recipe.