My Oma was a prolific baker. She baked in competitions for flour to feed her five children, and when she baked, she baked in quantity. 400 hot cross buns for Easter, 200 tourtiers for Christmas, mountains of cookies and bars and giant pots of soup- she only knew how to cook for an army. Not that she was wasteful- everything would be frozen and distributed among children, grandchildren, neighbors, the church. Going to her house was just like Christmas. She would always have cookies and something warm on the stove to eat, tea and small presents and the warmest smiles. She would like to get Happy Meals at the mall, to collect the toys for her grandchildren.
As you can imagine, when it was actually Christmas, it was even better- decorations around her tiny apartments, all kinds of cookies in festive tins, and entire garbage bags stuffed with toys, socks, and mittens. She had something magical about her. Her food was always unbelievably delicious, she always had a surprise waiting and a twinkle in her eyes. Her long, blonde hair would be done up in the most beautiful twists and knots, secured by pale bobby pins and plastic combs, though she hated having her picture taken. Her camera was reserved for portraits of her children and grandchildren, she would carry the prints around in her wallet, ready to share them with whomever would listen.
It all sounds so ordinary when I say it now, but she had that special quality that grandparents sometimes have. Everything just seemed a little shinier when I was with her.
Magic cookie bars were my favorite invention of hers. At least I thought they were her invention, turns out they were off of the back of a can of sweetened condensed milk. Chocolate and caramel and pecans and coconut- they were like candy bars, dense little bites of heaven. I had never tried making them before- I didn’t believe anyone could make them quite as delicious as she could. After all, as she would tell me, they were magic!
When she died last year, I thought that would be the end of Magic Cookie Bars for me. I mean, I was vegan, so I wouldn’t have eaten them anyway. But it was like a little bit of magic had been shut out from the world all the same. In time, though, I started to try and recreate her baking vegan versions- maybe she was gone, but I could still hold on to the spark of her life through our shared love of food and feeding those we love.
Then, one day I came across a recipe for them in Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. I needed to make them immediately. There were some problems- there are no vegan graham crackers in Edmonton, not graham cracker crumbs. So, I improvised. The first time I made an oreo crumb crust. Delicious, but not the same. Then, I found pre-made graham crumb pie crusts that happened to be vegan. I took them out of their shells, crumbled them, tossed them with a little melted margarine and put them in the usual 9×11 inch pan. Perfect.
These are just like Oma used to make. I wouldn’t have guessed that it would turn out so perfectly. The sweetened condensed coconut milk is heavenly on its own, try not to eat too much, as you will need it all for the recipe. It reminds me of vegan dolce de leche. You can see the whole recipe here.
Grandmothers are irreplaceable, but that’s why they leave us recipes, so we can keep reliving our moments with them even after they are gone.
Malcolm approves of them too.