This recipe comes from my friend and grad school office-mate Gwen. I love her narrative style – she brings a smile to my face with every Facebook status update. Here’s the story she tells about these Lemon Squares:
I have no idea who Mrs. Gertz was. I have always pictured her to be a sweet grandmotherly neighbor who would show up on your doorstep at holiday time with a scrumptious plate of homemade cookies, baked with kindness and love for the children of the neighborhood. In reality, she was probably someone’s cranky polyester-clad Home Ec teacher whose sole goal in life was to win the Pillsbury Bakeoff Contest. Regardless of who she was or why she baked, I can say one thing for certain . . . that lady made one heck of a lemon bar!
So why do I have this recipe? It doesn’t have anything to do with generational history or time-honored traditions. It has everything to do with my family’s obsession for books – and more specifically, book sales. when I was growing up, our family (like many others in Chicago-land) made the annual pilgrimage to the parking lot of the Old Orchard Shopping Center to pay homage at the Bradeis Used Book Sale. The raising of the three giant yellow and white striped circus tents signaled the official start of summer book hunting season, bringing with it not just the promise of great book bargains, but excitement of finding the one special book amongst the 400,000-or-so categorically-sorted volumes. For two weeks every summer, the (mostly) elderly volunteers of the “North Shore Chapter of the Brandeis University National Women’s Committee” offered us the thrill of the chase, contained within the thousands of musty cardboard boxes. The football field-sized tents, erected to provide shade and protect the books from Chicago’s early summer rains, instead created a sauna effect for everyone inside. It was a personal challenge to amass as many books as possible (ideally more than one’s siblings) before the urge to pass-out overtook you completely. I can still smell the mildewed humidity as if it were yesterday.
My parents probably provided refuge for a few thousand books over the years . . . right up until the last sale in 2006. I don’t remember most of what we took home. Most of those I do remember were cookbooks. One particularly memorable cookbook was actually produced by the group that put on the sale: “Taste of Today” (©1987). My mother LOVED this cookbook . . . so much so that she viciously searched-for and hoarded whatever copies surfaced every year, and distributed them freely amongst her friends to spread the love. After I graduated from college, she gave me my own copy. I can’t entirely blame this gift for the start of my substantial organizational-cookbook collection . . . but it may have nudged me in that direction.
Our favorite recipe from that cookbook, or probably any cookbook from the 1980s, is “Mrs. Gertz’s Lemon Squares.” Growing up, you know you were accepted when my mother made you the Costa Family recipe for lemon meringue pie. Making that is truly a labor of love . . . a labor that most of us cannot undertake on any kind of regular basis. These lemon squares are a heck of a lot easier to make, and taste *almost* as good (it would be heresy to say it is *just as* good). This is also a fun recipe for kids to help make. I must warn you though . . . you won’t be able to make these just once, and once you make them, they disappear fast. Enjoy!
- 2 cups flour (all purpose, or can swap 1/2 out for white whole wheat)
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 pound butter, softened
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Mix together dry ingredients. Cut in butter until mixture is the consistency of meal.
- In a 9 x 13 pan, press down mixture until evenly distributed as a crust.
- Bake for 20 minutes until light brown. Remove from oven.
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Juice of 2 lemons (fresh squeezed is best)
- 4 large eggs
- Mix all ingredients and beat well.
- Pour over baked crust. Return to oven and bake for 20 minutes.
- When completely cool, sprinkle generously with additional powdered sugar and cut into squares.
- Notes: I like to use a little more lemon and a little less sugar in the filling, but that is just my taste (liking things a little more sour in general). I also think the bars are better once they have had a chance to rest for a few hours before cutting.