Or bar, as this Canadian delicacy is more commonly known.
Nanaimo Bar by jamesonf, on Flickr
Nanaimo bars are a three-layered dessert. The first layer is a mixture of Graham cracker crumbs, butter, and flavoring elements; the second is a creamy custard-like layer that is usually vanilla-flavored; and the top is a mixture of chocolate and butter. They’re named for Nanaimo, a coastal city in British Columbia.
More or less everything else about these bars is disputed. (Well, I exaggerate. But not by much.)
Because of the pride Nanaimo has taken in the confection, combined with is popularity across Canada and in much of the Northwest U.S., a great deal of research has been put into the origin of these bars. Unfortunately, neither that research nor my own has managed to turn up so much as a likely point of origin.
The name attached at some point in the early 1950s. Similar recipes appeared under various names at various times, traveling under names like ribbon squares and New York squares, but I haven’t found any versions earlier than the 1954 reference in the January 18, 1954 edition of the Lethbridge (Alberta) Herald:
1/2 cup butter
Place softened butter, sugar, cocoa, vanilla and egg in a bowl. Set the bowl in a dish of boiling water. Stir well until butter has melted and the mixture resembles thin custard.
Combine graham wafer crumbs, coconut, and nuts, blending well. Add to custard mixture. Pack evenly in a 9-inch square pan, spread with icing.
Icing — Cream 3/4 cup butter, add 3 Tablespoons milk which has been combined with 2 tablespoons vanilla custard powder. Blend in 2 cups icing sugar. Spread over chocolate base, let stand about 15 minutes or so to harden somewhat.
Then melt 4 squares semi-sweet chocolate with 1 Tablespoon butter and spread over custard icing. When set, cut into bars.
What’s slightly strange are the various theories that didn’t pan out when other people were trying to research the origin. One story involved a hypothetical Women’s Auxiliary that didn’t seem to actually exist; another referenced an article in the Vancouver Sun that even the paper itself has been unable to locate; some attribute other original names, but I haven’t found it traveling under any of those names until after 1954. At this point, if someone said that the recipe showed up after a Sasquatch walked out of the woods and nailed it to the door of Nanaimo City Hall in 1953, I would have no evidence to contradict that.
But I can tell you that Nanaimo has embraced and adopted the recipe. If by some quirk Nanaimo bars were not natives of they city, they have surely been granted citizenship. The city has selected an official recipe and has a brochure that tracks iterations of the recipe available throughout the city (including a Nanaimo bar pedicure).
From left to right, that’s Vancouver Island University’s Blue Thunder; Nanaimo Barnie; and Waverly the Wave. From the Nanaimo Parks, Recreation and Culture community media guide.
What it doesn’t appear to have is an official mascot named Nanaimo Barney, as has been mentioned in various books and posts online. According to the city’s Parks, Recreation and Culture Community Guide (no doubt assembled by Leslie Knope’s Canadian cousin, Leslie MacKnope), Nanaimo Barney is a mascot operated by the Coast Bastion Inn. (The guide spells it Nanaimo Barnie, but I’m going with the spelling on Barney’s headband. Or wrapper. Whatever.) The list also includes the A&W Root Beer Bear and the McDonalds Hamburglar, so it doesn’t look like inclusion in the list makes it “official” in any way.
But if you’re wondering, the Parks and Rec department’s mascot is Waverly the Wave. Nanaimo’s Parks and Rec department, I mean. I think we all know what the official mascot of Pawnee’s department is.
From the box of F.J. from Sun City, Arizona. Some cards suggest a family history in Missouri and Kansas.
Delicious Nanaimo Squares
- 1/2 cup butter and
- 1/4 cup sugar and
- 5 Tbsp. cocoa and
- 1 egg and
- 1 tsp. vanilla
over low heat and cook and stir until butter melts.
- 2 cups Graham cracker crumbs and
- 1/2 cup chopped nut meats and
- 1 cup coconut
and mix well and press firmly in an 8×8 inch pan.
- 1/4 cup butter with
- 3 Tbsp. milk in which you stir
- 2 Tbsp. instant vanilla pudding mix, then cream with
- 2 cups powdered sugar and
- 1/2 tsp. mint flavoring or vanilla and [something?] sugar
Cream well and spread over the first mixture.
Top with two squares bitter chocolate melted over low heat with 2 Tbsp. butter, spread over pudding layer and put in refrigerator, cut in little squares.
I made mine with pistachio pudding mix and they were just delicious. I make these and the melt in your mouth ones and the little jam prints and put in Pringles boxes, rep in refrigerator or freezer and can have when company comes.
From the kitchen of Mrs. Herr’s daughter Alice.