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A Recipe Lost in Wartime, Recovered From Memory

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Growing up, it sometimes seemed as if my sisters and I were the only kids around without a grandma. Grandmothers were everywhere: visiting our friends at holiday time, taking children to movies, baking cookies for them. Not us.

Sossie Beile's Little Cherry Crumb Bars
Sossie Beile's Little Cherry Crumb Bars

In my only picture of our grandmother, my mother—a wide-eyed little girl, her hair plaited in two neat, thick little braids, wearing her best dress and a hand-crocheted collar—sits beside her. My grandmother's soft brown eyes have a faraway look in them.


My mother was about seven when she and Grampa lost her: They were living in a forced-labor camp under Nazi occupation when she became ill. She was loved and missed by all who knew her.

My grandmother (left) and my mother (right) in a photo as blurry as the memory itself.
My grandmother (left) and my mother (right) in a photo as blurry as the memory itself.

I grew up eating these buttery, crumbly bars, never suspecting their origin. When I called my mother for the recipe, and to double-check its source (Betty Crocker? her best friend?), I was surprised and moved to learn that it was my grandmother's.

But my mother never knew the measurements or amounts. She told me that she watched her mother make them time and again as a very little girl, perhaps helping mix the crumbly dough. The recipe was not written down; all was lost in wartime.

Sossie Beile's Little Cherry Crumb Bars
Sossie Beile's Little Cherry Crumb Bars

And it wasn't until after she and Grampa finally escaped and came to this country to start a new life, and my mother married and had a family, that she reconstructed the recipe from her childhood memory. This was how she was able to keep the memory of her mother alive and pass it down to us.

I'm so happy to have just one "handed-down" recipe to share it here. I recently found out that it's not only me who continues to make these cherry bars: My sisters have also continued to bake this treat for their own children. Though spread across the globe, Beile's great-grandchildren continue to enjoy this sweet little cookie.

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Sossie Beile's Little Cherry Crumb Bars

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Makes a 9 x 13 or 7 1/2 x 11-inch pan of bar cookies

For the filling:

  • 3/4 cup Morello (sour) cherry preserves (from red -- not black -- cherries), and more as needed
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoons almond extract

For the crumble:

  • butter for greasing the pan
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 dash salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
  • 1 large egg, beaten
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Tags: Bake, Dessert, Heirloom Recipes