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I am the tenth, and youngest, child in my family. When I got married, the women in my family gave me a gift of a binder filled with their favourite recipes; each one is handwritten on a card, and separated into categories like "Casseroles" and "Cakes/Cookies/Pies". They are of the tried-and-true variety and part of my earliest memories. Deviled eggs at cookouts, Parker House rolls for Thanksgiving, Congo Bars after school, Baked Eggs for Easter brunch...it's impossible to separate the memories from the menus.
Some of the recipes are named for their creators (Boozie's Apple Cake), some are remnants of dinner parties past (English Muffin Appetizers), and some are imbedded in the history of New England (Anadama bread), but all are part of the very fabric of our family life. The binder took up residence on my "favourites" shelf that year (in fact, is was my very first favourite cookbook), and has never sat there for longer than a week without being used.
It's been a part of seven different homes and has crossed a couple of oceans; it started out by teaching two newlyweds how to cook and graduated to keeping a family well-fed. It was made with love, and a little bit of that love has gone into every dish and meal we've made from it ever since.
My oldest brother's only child is getting married in September. She is a wonderful woman, intelligent and talented, and her fiance is a gem as well. He is in the military, and after the wedding they will head for the first of many posts to come. Incredible adventures await, to be sure, but I know from experience that there will be tough times as well. I'm going to put together a cookbook for her to take with her on her journeys, one that has its roots in that binder that I received so many years ago. It will be printed and bound, and will include food photos, family photos and anecdotes in additional to the recipes. My hope is that it will be a warm reminder of the love and thoughts that are with her always- from so many people- across generations, time and distance. If she learns a little bit about cooking and baking along the way, well I guess that's good, too.
Lemon Squares were the first up on my list to make and photograph for the book, which thrilled my husband as they are his all-time favourites. This is my mum's recipe, and a perennial favourite at family get-togethers. The crust is tender and rich, quite similar to shortbread in texture, but holds up well without crumbling. The filling has a vibrant lemon taste with just the right amount of sweetness to balance it. It will be the first entry in the chapter on desserts, to my niece from her Nana.
2 cups FLOUR
1/2 cup sifted CONFECTIONERS' SUGAR
1 cup (2 sticks) BUTTER, frozen
4 EGGS, beaten
2 cups SUGAR
1/3 cup LEMON JUICE
2 teaspoons LEMON ZEST
1/4 cup FLOUR
1/2 teaspoon BAKING POWDER
CONFECTIONERS' SUGAR, for dusting
FOR THE CRUST:
Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish and line with parchment paper.
Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Grate the frozen butter (using the large holes of a box grater) into the dry mixture. Toss the butter pieces to coat, then rub the pieces between your fingers for a minute, until the flour turns coarse. Pour the mixture into the lined pan and press firmly with your fingers to form an even crust. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.
FOR THE FILLING:
Whisk eggs, sugar, flour and baking powder together in a medium bowl. Add the lemon juice and zest and stir well. Pour mixture into the pan on top of the warm crust.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until the filling feels firm when touched lightly. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for 30 minutes. Grasp the parchment and carefully lift the bars onto a cutting board. Cut into serving size squares or bars, wiping your knife clean between cuts if necessary. Sieve confectioners' sugar over bars and serve.