LET’S COOK: Lilacs and lemon bars
This month of May brings me a generous bouquet. I see the lovely lilacs all about Minot, Rugby and the countryside. In bountiful arrays, they bloom in deep purple, light lavender, white, pink and when one looks very closely, some are even trimmed with white on their edges. How about double lilacs? I was first introduced to these on my morning walking in Rugby by neighbors Duane and Irene Baillie.
Out in the country as the green blades are rising and changing the brown landscape, there comes ribbons of lavender. Yes, lilacs lifting their soft sweet faces to catch the morning dews. One of my fondest memories of lilac dialog happened with Hartley Hageness. We were standing in his yard admiring the blooming lilacs when he went on to tell me that while flying his plane, he noticed below a complete row of lilacs stretching for several miles and all in bloom. He said he could not resist so he lowered the airplane to catch a better view-plus he was able to smell their fragrance! Now there is an example of “my cup with beauty is overrun!”
As you have gathered by now, the lilac is one of my very favorite blooms. Their charm and grandeur bring a smile to me. I have written about them before but one can never say enough about lilacs in North Dakota and the memories they have and continue to create.
When I sat down to write this article, our daughter Lydia was at my side. I was visiting with her about lilacs and trying to interest her in going for a walk to do some photography with them. She didn’t jump at that chance, but when I mentioned about what to make for this article she came to my rescue. She said “Dad, let me make the recipe for your column,” and then went on to explain that it would be lemon bars. She enticed me just a bit more by reminding me that lemon bars would be a perfect match with lilacs because “you taught me that yellow in the direct compliment to purple.” How could I say no to that! She is an active member of 4-H and has taken a real interest in baking that past few months.
As of May 23, Lydia is now a budding eighth grader at Ramstad School which leads me to this quote by Michael Altshuler, “The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” Last night was a moment to cherish as Lydia chimed in on helping with my column. We had to start the process by playing a quick game of badminton, and then it was on to the kitchen.
She started the process by using (I kid you not) her favorite Pyrex bowl from the farm at Ray. Remember the Pyrex set of yellow, green, red and blue? Well this lemon bar tango involved the yellow and green bowls. Before long I heard, “Mom, I need your help!” and it came as the crust was being placed in the baking pan where Jan said “don’t press too hard!” I had to peek around the corner as both of them as nestled at the kitchen counter working-another pleasant memory of home.
Here is another glorious recipe from the family files introduced first by our Aunt Ethel Thompson, of Williston. This is a splendid example of a bar recipe that is refreshing, attractive and delicious. It is something that all can enjoy with its buttery crust, custard lemon filling, light crusted top and all with a minimalist of cookery-take time to enjoy the lilacs and leisure!
They have been dusted with powder sugar to remind us that there would be no lilacs without the bounty of winter. It’s a shame that winter often gets a bad rap when the temps drop below zero and snow piles high. Do not shun these trials-just remember they bring about lovely lilacs. California may have sunny days in January but do not have the delight of waking up to beautiful lilacs nestled in every corner of North Dakota in springtime. So now in honor of school being out, winter and lilacs let’s have a toast!
My gathering of cooking information as you know has been lifelong. I learned back in 4th grade from Ida Hoppe and Gladys Rust, both Underwood cookery stars, that beating whole eggs and sugar is important. They both improved my method by showing me that beating an egg mixture until “it forms the ribbon.” This means that eggs double in volume, look like a thick, soft, pale yellow salad dressing. Using this method of beating whole eggs with sugar and then adding other ingredients results in bars that have a lift.
Whenever I use lemons and the lemon zest is not required for the recipe, I simply remove it store it in the freeze for future use. Lemon zest can be used in so many ways and it freezes nicely. Remember the zest of citrus is only the colored part of the peel as the white pith is bitter and unsightly.