Kandy & Ginny’s Pumpkin Pie Squares

A few weeks ago I was tempted by some custardy-looking bars on the table after the first service at church. When I asked Pat, who had volunteered to host the coffee and snack table that day, she told me that they were pumpkin pie squares. I bit into a bar and was pleasantly surprised to discover that one could enjoy a piece of pumpkin pie while watching one’s diet. Pat had cut her squares into inch and a half pieces, so I assumed that each piece had only a few calories.

Since Jerri and I usually sit near the front of the sanctuary, we are nearly always among the last people to shake hands with the pastor and head to the coffee table. Looking around, I did not see anyone heading for the snacks, so I asked if I might take another of the half dozen remaining bars. I’m sure that the two bars still had a lot fewer calories than a piece of pie with whipped cream.

I was hooked by those tasty morsels and asked Pat for the recipe. “It’s in the church cookbook,” she told me. “It’s Kandy Schaffer and Ginny Hoogheem’s recipe, and we like it a lot. You must have a copy.”

So I went home, found A Little Taste of Heaven, published in 1990 by the United Methodist Women of our church, and made Pumpkin Pie Squares. Unless you hate pumpkin pie, this is a recipe you will want to add to your repertoire of desserts.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin
1 can (12 to 13 oz.) evaporated milk
2 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 T softened butter

PROCEDURE:

Preheat the oven to 350º and lightly grease a nine by thirteen-inch baking pan. Use a fork to mix the flour, oatmeal and brown sugar in a mixing bowl. Soften the butter and cut it into the dry ingredients. Pat this crust mixture into the bottom of the pan and bake for fifteen minutes.

While the crust is baking, beat together the pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar, salt and spices with an electric mixer. Pour the pumpkin batter into the crust and return the pan to the oven. Bake for twenty minutes.

Stir the pecans, brown sugar and softened butter together in a small bowl. Sprinkle the nut mixture over the partially cooked pumpkin and continue baking for about thirty to thirty-five minutes or until done. Check for doneness with a table knife inserted near the center of the pan. If the knife comes out clean, the bars are done. If not, bake another five minutes and check again.

NOTE: Kandy and Ginny both died within the last few years and the list of those who contributed recipes to A Little Taste of Heaven when it was published in 1990 includes many more who have passed away. I think this little cookbook is a memorial to those women (and a few men) who cooked and loved their families, church and God. Every time we follow one of their recipes, we affirm that those who are gone are not forgotten.

Mary Emily and Lorraine’s Fruit Slices

Judging from the number of cards for icebox cookies in her recipe boxes, I think that my mother and her friends must have really loved them. Actually, they seemed to like just about any kind of cookie, but simple ones like drop cookies were obvious favorites, and ice box cookies were a close second.

Mary Emily Libbey may well have shared my mother’s enthusiasm for a cookie dough that you can stir up, put in the refrigerator and use to bake fresh cookies every morning. I first tasted these cookies at a Christmas open house hosted by Lorraine and Chris many years ago. Lorraine got the recipe from her mother-in-law, Mary Emily Libbey, whom Jerri and I met at one of those holiday extravaganzas when Chris’s mother was visiting.

Mary Emily was celebrating Christmas in Wisconsin, 1,300 miles from her home in Westborough, Massachusetts, where Chris grew up. I wish I had known more about her when we met, as she was an impressive lady. Besides helping Chris’s father make lollipops to sell on his milk and egg route, she started the first food shelf in Westborough when she was seventy years old. Her concern for others manifests itself in Chris and Lorraine’s community service today.

Chris and Lorraine met and married when he was a student in Springfield, Massachusetts. His choice of a bride who was a stranger from a city sixty miles away meant that it took a long time before Mary Emily decided to trust her daughter-in-law with the recipe for Fruit Slices.

Finally, seventeen years after Lorraine had been welcomed into the Libbey family, Mary Emily shared her recipe for Fruit Slices. This year Lorraine gave me the recipe and permission to share it with anyone who likes a delicious icebox cookie. My mother would have loved them, and I think you will too.

Here is Mary Emily’s recipe for a cookie that is perfect for giving at Christmas or enjoying and sharing anytime.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup salted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
2 cups candied cherries

PROCEDURE:

Put the butter and sugar into a mixing bowl and allow the butter to soften while you cut the cherries in half and coarsely chop the nuts.

Cream the sugar into the butter. Beat the egg and vanilla into the creamed sugar until you have a smooth batter, then sift the flour by thirds into the batter. Mix in the fruit and nuts after two-thirds of the flour is added. Stir well between additions and make sure that all the flour is incorporated into the batter. The dough will be very stiff. If necessary, you can add a tiny bit of water if the egg was not large enough to provide all the moisture needed.

Tear three or four fourteen-inch pieces of wax paper from a roll and put them near your work surface. Put a quarter of the dough on a sheet of wax paper and press it into an oblong shape. Wrap the dough in the paper and form it into a log by rolling it on the work surface. When the log is about ten inches long, place the log seam side down in a baking pan.

Make the other logs the same way and put the pan in an unheated room or refrigerator for at least three hours. When the logs are hard, they are ready to cut into cookies.

Preheat the oven to 325º and use a serrated knife to cut the logs into thin slices about a sixth of an inch in thickness. Place the slices a half-inch apart on ungreased baking sheets and bake the cookies ten to thirteen minutes until they just barely begin to brown on the edges.

Cool the cookies on wax paper and store them in a sealed container.

NOTES: Lorraine noted that she sometimes uses a combination of a half teaspoon of vanilla and a half teaspoon of another flavoring. Almond would probably make a delicious variant.

Mary Emily’s recipe called for pecan or walnut halves, but I agree with Lorraine that coarsely chopping the nuts makes sense.

Lorraine says that she now substitutes fruitcake mix for the cherries because she likes the different colors in the mixed fruit. I prefer the cherries, both for appearance and flavor.

Chris told me that the cookies I made were thicker than the ones he remembered his mother making and Lorraine said that they were thicker than hers. Both Chris and Lorraine said that the flavor was fine, but that the cookies were not as crisp as Mary Emily’s. If you want cookies like Chris and Lorraine remember, try making the slices an eighth of an inch thick.

Finally, Lorraine’s emailed recipe ended with this comment: “Enjoy – you are the only one I have shared this recipe with. We were married in ’67 and I did not get this recipe until ’84!!!!!”