Scotch Squares



My mother’s recipe box is a little tin chest lovingly plastered with green floral shelving paper. The box dates from the 1970s, an era when mothers not only owned recipe boxes but decorated them, even cooked from them to judge from the grime coating my mother’s.

In this box resides a recipe that has shaped my life. Cut out of a magazine and glued onto an index card, it’s called Crunchy Scotch Squares and contains six ingredients: butter or margarine, brown sugar, rolled oats, flour, baking powder and salt.

My mother, never one to take recipes literally, has written on the margins of the index card: add an egg!, (oil), smaller pan and see over! (On the other side is her sister-in-law’s recipe for orange juice cake.)

In my mother’s post-70s recipe collection – stuffed into a file folder labelled TRY AND/OR THROW OUT – further scotch square variations can be found. There have been sunflower seed, coconut and candied ginger trends. At times, they’ve been soft and chewy, at other times denser than dog biscuits (in fact the comparison has been made).

In recent years, with her mounting zeal for decanting dried goods from their original packages into unlabeled glass jars, my mother’s scotch squares have featured such under-appreciated baking ingredients as bulgar, barley and, fully on trend, quinoa. Uncooked. Asked what’s in her squares, my mother must often answer – in all honesty – she doesn’t know. She’s happy to share the recipe but is also quick to add that she doesn’t really follow it.

When my brother and I left home, my mother’s maternal embrace took the form of scotch square care packages. For a while, it went well. But 9/11 changed everything, including the incubation periods of unidentified baked goods on international borders. My New York City-based brother once had to wait six months for the arrival of his “birthday cake” (scotch squares) which, he claimed, tasted “as good as ever” half a year later. When my mother visited me in Berlin, she never failed to bake scotch squares and became quite famous for them, even if nobody – professional translators included- could find an adequate German term.

Without knowing much about blogging, I’m thinking a good blog should be like a scotch square – small but dense, quotidian but not boring, quickly consumed but not quickly forgotten. Eaters of scotch squares might not know what they’re eating, but they’re rarely averse to more. Of course, the ultimate satisfaction for the scotch square maker comes from the scratched-bare pan – which is what that little box down there is doing. Scratch away.




1 Comment

One Response to Scotch Squares

  1. Terri

    My mom used to make the same recipe! I never knew the proper name until a couple years ago. After she died, I asked my sisters and brother for the recipe, but no one could find it. We knew them as “cement bars” because they were so hard. One sister finally found the recipe and I’ve been making them ever since. The ones I bake never seem to be quite as hard as my mom’s, but they are just as tasty. (Which, funny enough, is a bit disappointing…) I did a search to see if I could find anything about them on line and your blog was the first article. It made me smile as it sounds just like my mom. Thanks for transporting me back to my childhood 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *