Chocolate Cake & Lemon Bars


I recently received a very special gift.


Ben’s late Grandma’s – Gwendolyn’s – collection of cook books.

His family has started the long process of sorting through her belongings after she passed away last year, and among the many items a woman in her 80s possesses – letters, knickknacks, pictures and notes – was her well used  collection of cook books, which they thoughtfully entrusted to me.


Cook books she used everyday, jotting down notes to indicate a "family favorite",


or re-writing ingredients to better suit her tastes.


Cook books stuffed with handwritten recipes that Grandmas seem to always make best,


like "Mystery Bars"


and "Honey Peanut Bar Cookies."


Cook books with pages that were stained and splattered with the evidence of lovingly made family dinners and desserts.


Let me tell you about the desserts… If there was any question in my mind that Gwen had a sweet tooth, I am now completely clear on the matter.


The worn and well used tabs for "Cookies," "Cakes & Frostings" and "Candies" stuck out in every cook book I opened.


A woman after my own heart.


Her favorites, from what I can tell, were Chocolate Cake, and Lemon Bars. Variations of the same two recipes were ear-marked in book after book – saved to be easily found and made again and again.


"Yep, she loved her Lemon Bars…" Ben confirmed after I informed him of my suspicions. And we all know about Grandma’s famous Cookie Cake which, if the chocolaty fingerprints covering the cake page of her favorite cook book are any indication, she made often.


There was a big lump in my throat as I was going through Gwen’s collection, flipping through the faded pages and catching glimpses of her handwriting every now and again, but it was more sweet than sorrowful. And given my love for cooking, I only feel closer to her now. Is that cheesy?


Hang on, I think I saw a recipe for a cheese ball a few pages back…


"My Grandma/Grandpa makes/made THE best _______."

My Grandma on my Mom’s side makes THE best chicken noodle soup. My Grandma on my Dad’s side made THE best homemade caramels.

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  1. Lindsey 06.22.2011

    Thats easy! My Grandma made the best sugar cookies! She would bring them to school for me at every possible occasion and holiday and always decorated accordingly too. It was the best and all the teachers and other kids knew “Lindsey’s Grandma”.

  2. Lara 06.22.2011

    My grandma passed away last year and was wonderful cook. When she died, we went over to clean out her apartment and everywhere we looked, she had little scraps of paper with recipes jotted on them. There were literally at least a hundred, not counting all the cook books and recipe tear outs she had. Her best creation though, peanut butter fudge, went to the grave with her and my mom has spent the last year trying to recreate it – she’s getting close! I keep a photo of my Grandma in my kitchen of all places! I like to think that she’s enjoying watching me (try) to cook :)

  3. Tina Z 06.22.2011

    Blueberry gingerbread. We had to pick the blueberries (on the Maine coast) and always ate half of our bounty before we got home. If we ate too much, she would send my brother and I back out!

  4. Melissa 06.22.2011

    This is so sweet, Kristin. My grandpa makes the best homemade applesauce and spaetzles. We even had a German Christmas dinner one year where he made spaetzle, kielbasa, and sauerkraut. Not traditional, but special in its own way. :)

  5. Ashley 06.22.2011

    I only have one living Grandma, and she makes the best pumpkin pie, and deviled eggs. Every Easter she sneaks me to the side and lets me try a few to make sure they taste ok. :)

  6. What an amazing gift. I would love to have my grandma’s cookbooks, I wonder what happened to them. My grandma made the best fudge. It was so delicious, and I don’t even like fudge!

  7. Moira 06.22.2011

    Aww….Gwen’s Cookie Cake. I remember it well. Every Sunday dinner and church potluck. Was it Gwen or Loretta that made the Lamb cake every Easter? One would make the Lamb cake and the other a glazed angel food cake. Or was it two cakes for every birthday? The family was huge so two cakes were definately called for. Do you have either of those recipes in your treasure trove of cookbooks? Gwen and Loretta, two amazing women. Strong, wise, loving.Getting teary…must go get a tissue. I would love a copy of the cookie cake and angel food cake recipe. I do have a couple of Modale cookbooks if it happens to be in there?

  8. Kayla 06.22.2011

    My grandma was the woman in charge of the harvest crews lunch at my grandpa’s farm, and she always had an amazing spread ready. But the best thing that was always there, was her soft, buttery homemade white bread pure, simple genius.

    My other grandma made the best pot pot of homemade beef and noodles. They are so simple, yet hearty and delicious. Her recipe comes form a cookbook much like the ones you posted here. This post was sweet and brought back memories.

  9. Sarah 06.22.2011

    That is so sweet. I love when I open up cookbooks and I cansee the stains! My grandma s a great cook. She makes wonderful salads!

  10. Kim 06.22.2011

    My grandma made awesome chicken and dumplings.

  11. erica 06.22.2011

    my grandma made the best grasshopper pie!

    and oddly enough, her handwritting looks almost identical to ben’s grandma’s!!!

  12. My grandma makes THE best funfetti cookies EVER!

  13. Luv What You Do 06.22.2011

    That is so amazing!
    Enjoy cooking your way through the cookbooks!

    My grandma used to make these butter cookies with M&M’s in the middle. When we were younger and she would visit from Florida, my brother and I would be more excited about the shoe box in the baggage claim (that’s where the cookies were) than seeing my grandparents. I have to get my hands on that recipe!

  14. DawnK 06.22.2011

    My grandma on my dad’s side made the best oatmeal cookies, sweet/sour vinaigrette for coleslaw with cabbage and carrots, creamy cucumbers, mashed potatoes, potato sausage, fried eggs. Etc.

    Can she come back and cook for me one more time? I think I figured out the secret to the oatmeal cookies, though. I think she might have used old-fashioned oats!

    Enjoy your cookbooks!

    My mom is a wonderful cook, but I don’t think she learned from my maternal grandma. My maternal grandma always put together weird stuff.

  15. Kristi Young 06.22.2011

    My grandma made the best vegetable soup. She had a garden, picked the veggies, made the soup and canned it right away. By the time it was cool enough for soup, it tasted straight out of the garden!

  16. shandy (@webgals) 06.22.2011

    This is going to sound weird…because it is. But, my grandma made the best boiled potatoes. Yep. It’s ridiculous, but I can’t replicate it. Every Thanksgiving I looked forward to nothing more than her boiled potatoes.

  17. Banana Pudding!!!! oh yes!!!

  18. debbie 06.22.2011

    wow! That’s amazing. You must feel so special that you have her cook books.

  19. I love my Nanny’s salad’s. She puts raw garlic in it. :)

  20. My grandmother on my dad’s side make the best brownies…she’s the only one I know that makes brownies like that. My grandpa makes the best smoked salmon.
    And grandma on the other side makes the best deviled eggs…she is asked to bring them to everything.

    I’ve been given many old cookbooks over the years…I love the little notes on recipes that you find in them.

  21. Lauren 06.22.2011

    This is so sweet. My grandma passed away a few years ago and my aunt made a cookbook for me of her prized recipes. It means so much to me and I always think of her when I make something from it.

  22. My grandma made the best homemade pierogi and Christmas cookies everrrrrrrrrrr!!! I have her old cookbooks as well, they are so wonderful to look through and remember her by :)

  23. My grandma makes the best blueberry muffins. And they are totally from the box – but they taste soooooo much better when Grandma makes them.

  24. Caylie M 06.22.2011

    My grandma made the best potato salad! I’m pretty sure she went to the grave with it… :( My dad has tried to recreate it… but it hasn’t gotten there yet. Maybe it was just because she made it… I don’t know. I miss that stuff…
    And the sad thing is.. when I was younger, I hated potatoes, so for the longest time, I wouldn’t eat it… It was only a year before she passed that I tried it… and loved it. Oy vey… what was I thinking?!

  25. Mary Ann 06.22.2011

    What a wonderful gift Kristin!

    My Grandma makes the best gravy and pie crusts! Also, she cuts my watermelon and cantaloupe up for me (something my mom won’t do). It’s become a bit of a family joke that I always whine that my mom won’t cut watermelon up for me but Grandma will. We were in Mexico two weeks ago and Grandma came down late to the pool because she was cutting up watermelon in our condo!

  26. Lindsey 06.22.2011

    My grandma made the best Rhubarb Pie… she always had a freezer full, so that even during the winter she could whip one out! :)

  27. Rachel 06.22.2011

    My grandma on my mom’s side made the best peanut butter kiss cookies…I don’t even like eating them that much any more, because no one else’s even come close to hers. My grandma on my dad’s side made the best homemade chicken & noodles.

  28. Melissa 06.22.2011

    My grandma on my dad’s side made the best chicken noodle hotdish and the best potato pancakes, she passed away years ago and my mom has multiple boxes of my her cookbooks to go through, yet. Much like what you have pictured here.

    My grandma on my mom’s side makes the best “raspberry salad” it has pretzels in the crust, involves whipped cream, cream cheese, raspberries, of course. But, I’ve never understood the whole “salad” term, when I want to call it dessert…like your grandma’s Snickers salad…must be a 60’s thing?

    Question for you, Kristin: Ever thought of pulling a Julie / Julia type thing and cook your way through a cookbook? :-)

  29. Jenn-from-Texas 06.22.2011

    This is such a sweet and loving post. Your tribute I imagine means alot to your hubby and his family. As I read this it makes me think of my own grandmother and puts me in such a warm and loving place.

    My grandmother makes the best chicken salad. She gave me the recipe once from her head, but it didn’t taste nearly as good.

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful post!

  30. Candy 06.22.2011

    Your post today makes me miss my grandma’s cooking. My grandparents made the best Thanksgiving dinners….my grandpa HAD to have 8 different veggies, which as a kid I didn’t appreciate as much as I would now… My grandma also made awesome lasagna!!

  31. My mom has those same recipe cards with the design in the upper left-hand corner!

  32. Teresa 06.22.2011

    I inherited a few of my grandma’s old cookbooks. I can tell she really liked banana bread, because those recipes were always the stickiest, most stained pages in the books. She also left little notes about which recipes were “good” and which she was serving for Sunday dinner. And I’ve discovered coupons and grocery lists in her handwriting tucked inside the pages. Opening up those cookbooks makes me feel a little closer to her now that she’s gone. She was definitely one of a kind!

  33. Whitney W 06.22.2011

    This is the sweetest post I’ve ever read. My grandma has a very special place in my heart and I really don’t know what I would do without her.

  34. Maggie 06.22.2011

    My dad’s mother made the best German apple cake. It’s part of why my grandpa fell in love with her. My mom’s mother made great everything from pot roast to lasagna and Sunday desserts like y cinnamon swirl bundt cake and homemade peach ice cream. My fondest memories were the chili dogs she would make before we went trick or treating (we started in her neighborhood) and before the Christmas parade and her mixing milkshakes by hand for us when we spent the night at her house.

  35. Jackie Smith 06.22.2011

    Zucchini bread. She has a light touch with any type of baked good (even pie crusts), but her zucchini bread “takes the cake”. Last year, she told me the secret–a CUP of oil! Yikes!

  36. sara 06.22.2011

    My grandma made the best….cherry delight!

  37. Donna 06.22.2011

    That’s such an honor that Ben’s family chose you to take such a great family treasure! You are very lucky to have such seemingly great in-laws.
    My Grandma died when I was very young, but my 6-year old self thought she made grilled cheese better than anyone else!

  38. What a beautiful gift…. it must be pure joy to look through her cookbooks. I’m sure you’re learning so much about her and your husband’s family. So neat!

    My Grandma (in England) makes the most amazing Cornish pasties. She starts them 2 days before we eat them and just puts so much heart and love into each step. I adore her.

  39. Grace 06.22.2011

    That scripture cake is too funny! Love that she took the time to decipher that.

  40. Trisha 06.22.2011

    Aww, I love this entry Kristin. So heartwarming! I love looking through my mom’s hundreds of cookbooks, also making note of the “most-used” pages, noticing that they are all favorite dishes of mine.
    As for my grandma (whoe I’m pretty sure has never used a cookbook) makes THE. BEST. NOODLES. Not soup, not casserole, but what our family calls milk noodles and beef noodles. Pretty sure there has never been a recipe, but a day or so before Christmas, my grandma starts rolling out her dough. Just a simple dough of flour, salt, egg and water. Lets it harden, then cuts it up and adds the uncooked noodles to two different pots. One this milky, creamy mixture of whole milk, butter, and…well, I’m not sure what else. Maybe nothing more than that. But to make it even “healthier”, we eat the milk noodles on top of boiled, mashed potatoes with a slab of butter. Mmm… And the beef noodles go into a simmering pot of shredded beef with some other stuff (maybe I should learn this someday–but there are most definitely no vegetables included ;), which does create something similar to a soup, but much thicker and yummier. Each of granny’s kids and grandkids has a favorite. You’re either a milk noodle kid or a beef noodle kid. However, being grandma’s favorite and all…I can never make a decision. I feel differently about it at each holiday! My 87-year old granny has passed the recipes on to my mom, but I have yet to learn the secrets of Grandma Geraldine’s Noodles. :)

  41. jen 06.22.2011

    Oh man! I’m tearing up! That’s so sweet that they entrusted her cookbooks to you.

    My dad’s mom never made anything worth mentioning. My dad talks about some of her dishes, but I never remember eating her food….is that weird? My mom’s mom passed away long before I was born. However, last year I got my hands on her recipe box and made a cookbook for my mom, my aunt and myself of her recipes. It does make me feel closer to her when I use it!

    Anyway, so sweet. I’m sure Gwen was so proud of her grandson for picking you as his wife!

  42. What a beautiful gift! My grandma makes the best mashed potatoes and gravy and the best watergate salad! :)
    My husband’s grandma makes the best braciole and any pasta dish! :)

  43. Amy 06.22.2011

    My Mormor (Danish for grandmother) makes the best abelskiver, a type of Danish pancake that is actually round and hollow in the middle and only very tiny (about 1.5 inches in radius). They are scented with cardamom and you serve them hot, and allow each person to stuff them full of whatever they choose, usually jam or icing sugar. So delicious!

  44. April 06.22.2011

    I love how her handwriting looks just like my grandma’s handwriting!

  45. Kaitlin 06.22.2011

    My paternal grandmother makes the best Chocolate Jumbles. It’s a spice cookie from the 1920s that my grandfather’s mother orally passed down to my grandmother. My grandmother was the first to write the recipe down, in approximations, of course, and I asked her to teach it to me, so that I can pass it down to my children as well.

  46. Mac 06.22.2011

    Cream puffs are my Grandma Bien’s specialty, Grandma Hunter was great at making rosettes, and my Grandpa Bien is an expert in making bread! We’ve definitely got our family favs!

  47. my grandma on my mom’s side made the best blueberry muffins! thankfully we all have the recipe…they are delish!

    i have alot of my grandma’s old cookbooks too…so fun :)

  48. Alyssa 06.22.2011

    My grandma makes the best sour cream cookies. I feel like every other time I comment I say something about these cookies but they are soooo good. Sugar cookie but so moist and fluffy.

  49. Brynne 06.22.2011

    On my mom’s side, my grandma makes the best pasta salad and pecan pie. My dad’s mom makes the best pancakes and mashed potatoes :)

  50. Tammy 06.22.2011

    My grandma on my mom’s side made the best BBQ ribs with her secret homemade BBQ sauce. My grandma on my dad’s side made delicious homemade beef and noodles. I have tried and tried to duplicate their recipes but just can’t get it to taste like theirs.

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