Grandmother Barker’s Nanaimo Bars

This guest post is written by Ravenna Nuaimy-Barker. Ravenna is Executive Director of Sustain Ontario a province-wide, cross-sectoral alliance that promotes healthy food and farming. We’re running this post as part of the Apron Strings series focusing on how our foremothers’ food nourished us body and soul.

Though I am from the United States, the family recipe that I’m going to share with you is a Canadian original. This story is about how Nanaimo Bars, named after Nanaimo BC, became a family favorite.

My grandmother, Lucy, grew up on a farm in Okemah, Oklahoma. If you’ve heard of Okemah (which you probably haven’t) it would probably be as the birthplace of songster Woodie Guthrie. Woody was only six years older than my grandmother, but she claims not to have known him. She did, however, know his mother. Grandma tells me Mrs. Guthrie made the best tamales in town.

Grandma lived with her family on the farm until she met and married my grandfather Bob, a dashing young engineer from Ohio who enlisted in the Air Force shortly afterward. Lucy followed Bob from once army base to another all over the United States, eventually moving in with his family in Ohio when he went to war. When he returned safely, he was offered an engineering job, and the moving resumed.

It was in the late 50’s, when my mother and uncle were entering elementary school, that Lucy and Bob moved to their most exotic home yet – Regina.

During the decade that they lived there my family found many things to love about Canada.  My uncle found skiing, and although he now lives in California, he still skis every week. My mother, now a theatre professor, discovered acting here.

My grandmother, who now lives in California, still remembers fondly the hoar-frosted trees that she first saw here. It was also here that the whole family fell for a special version of Nanaimo bars, shared with them by a Canadian neighbour.

Though the family eventually returned to the U.S., the recipe stayed with them. I grew up hearing stories of Canada each time we celebrated a holiday or birthday and ate these magical Nanaimo bars.

I can’t say that this delicious treat is the main reason that I decided to move to Canada myself over a decade ago – but it was certainly a factor.

The Barker Nanaimo Bars


Part 1:

  • Combine ½ cup butter, 4 tablespoons dry cocoa, ¼ cup white sugar
  • beat 1 egg and add to the mixture
  • put in a double boiler, stir until melted and a little thicker
  • add 1 tsp vanilla, 1 cup coconut (you can use a little more), at least 2 cups graham cracker crumbs and ¾ cup chopped walnuts

Part 2

  • Pack all of that into a 9×9 pan
  • Take a small package of cream cheese and mix with just enough powdered sugar to make it a little sweet
  • Spread on top of the graham cracker coconut mix
  • Chill entire mixture

Part 3:

  • Melt 4 squares semi-sweet or dark chocolate (or an equivalent amount of chocolate chips) in a double boiler
  • Spread the chocolate carefully in a thin layer over the top of the chilled cream cheese
  • Re-chill and serve when chocolate is hardened

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