One Book, great food

This year’s One Book, One Mesa County’s book selection is J. Ryan Stradal’s “Kitchens of the Great Midwest.” Clockwise, from lower left, are raisin coffee bars, chocolate chip bars and Patricia Prager’s peanut butter bars.

Angie Allen, left, reads a bar cookie recipe from J. Ryan Stradal’s “Kitchens of the Great Midwest” as Janine Rider measures a cup of flour into the mixing bowl. The two women are co-chairs of this year’s “One Book, One Mesa County” committee that has named Stradal’s book as its selection for 2016.


Linda Burmeister’s Coffee and Raisin Bars

1 1/2 cups sugar (I cut to 1 cup)

1 cup shortening

2 eggs

A pinch of salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon (Mom said to use a little more)

1 cup raisins simmered a bit in a cup of strong coffee

1 cup liquid from simmering raisins, add a bit more water to make a cup if needed

2 1/2 cups flour

Chopped nut meats if desired (I added about half a cup or more)

Cream sugar and shortening together, add eggs and mix. Add raisins and liquid, then flour. Add nuts at the last.

Spread in a 10x15 inch greased and floured pan (jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with sides). Bake in a 350 degree oven for 18–20 minutes or until done.

Spread with a glaze while slightly warm.

Glaze: Mix strong coffee with powdered sugar to glaze consistency. Spread over warm bars.

Just before Christmas, I got a call from Janine Rider, one of the co-chairs of Mesa County Libraries’ One Book, One Mesa County committee.

Janine, knowing my Midwest history, was excited to tell me about the committee’s book selection for 2016: “Kitchens of the Great Midwest” by J. Ryan Stradal, a first time novelist who hails from Minnesota.

During our conversation she kept mentioning the importance of Pat Prager’s Peanut Butter Bar Cookies in the story.

As I read the book, I wondered and waited for those bars to make their appearance. They finally did. As you read the book, you must have patience, but the Peanut Butter Bars and their significance will become perfectly clear.

You’ll find yourself, like me, smiling as you close the book to go make those bar cookies.

That is how Angie Allen, the other One Book committee co-chair, and I ended up in Janine’s kitchen one day to bake bar cookies.

We made Pat Prager’s Peanut Butter Bar Cookies using the recipe in the book, Chocolate Chip Bars using the recipe on a package of Nestlé Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips and my mother-in-law’s Coffee and Raisin Bars using an old, old recipe passed down from a great-grandmother in Iowa.

Over the years, I inherited a number of little cookbooks put together by churches and other small groups in the Midwest and elsewhere. What a treasure they are.

Bar cookies have been around for a long time, as I discovered in those cookbooks. I counted recipes for more than 20 bar cookies in a Schaller, Iowa, 1961 Women’s Club Cookbook.

Here is how I see it: Bar cookies probably came to be when a busy mom didn’t have time to bake the dough into individual cookies. She took the cookie dough and pushed it into a 10x15 inch baking pan and turned it into bar cookies.

Cake batters also have been turned into bar cookies. It’s just a matter of size of pan and a little creativity.

Janine, Angie and I enjoyed our get-together to make and to taste bars and discuss the book. The novel’s main character, Eva, has a distinguished palate and her adventurous culinary creations will make you salivate. Each chapter adds to the number of characters who play a pivotal role in Eva’s life and to a list of fine foods she discovers to create her spectacular menus.

Angie reminded us there are lots of similarities in the book to life and food in western Colorado or wherever you’re from. I had to agree and admit I had never tried venison until I moved here.

And I’d like to ask Stradal why there is no mention of rhubarb — it is so prevalent in the Midwest — in his novel. Maybe Eva didn’t like it. Perhaps I’ll make him some rhubarb cookie bars for his visit to the Grand Valley on March 5.

Leading up to Stradal’s visit, “Kitchens of the Great Midwest” will inspire an interesting series of programs discussing various topics found in the book. For information on how to get a copy of the book as well as a schedule of free events, go to

“Kitchens of the Great Midwest” makes for a good story, good food and good memories.


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