Friday, March 4, 2011

My Grandma's Cracker Cookie Bars

Dear friends,

Last week, as I waited in the Orlando airport for my flight to Maryland to see my family (see here), I noticed Ann Kroeker's blog post about inheriting her Grandma's cookie pan and remembering the gum drop cookies that had been stored in it.

I knew I would see my 96 year old Grandma Hess on my visit, and started remembering the cookies we had enjoyed when we had visited her at their Pennsylvania homestead during my childhood and teen years.

For some reason, the one I could most easily recall was made from a cracker with a sweet coating on it. So I asked Grandma about it the next morning, and my mother went rummaging through Grandma's recipe notebook. I still don't think we came up with the right one, but this was the closest.  And it's yummy, especially the ramped up version with chocolate and peanut butter.  After all, what could go wrong with chocolate?
Today, I bought most of the ingredients at Aldi, which has low grocery prices and fairly consistent good quality.  The only thing I already had was some store brand peanut butter and white sugar from Walmart.

The basic recipe:

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 stick margarine
  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 24 saltine crackers (the recipe called for Keebler's, which are smaller, so you would need more of those)

Mix the first five ingredients in a sauce pan and boil for five minutes.  Arrange the saltine crackers in a single layer in a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.  Pour the liquid mixture over the crackers and spread evenly.  Chill.  Cut into squares.

The advanced recipe:

Add a second layer of crackers to the baking pan. (I used round Ritz style crackers for the second layer, but they have more fat and cost more per ounce.) Melt 1 cup chocolate chips (I used more) with 3/4 cup peanut butter.  Spread the chocolate mixture over the crackers.  Chill.  Cut into squares.

The verdict?  Both were delicious, a nice mix of salty and sweet.  The chocolate ones disappeared a lot faster than the others, for obvious reasons. 

I think I would reduce the amount of topping in the basic recipe if I am doing a single layer.  I am also thinking of switching things up a bit and using oatmeal instead of graham cracker crumbs, and adding cocoa powder and/or peanut butter to the basic mixture, in lieu of the full chocolate chip coating, which costs more and adds a lot more sugar and fat calories.

All in all, this is a sweet way to build a sense of family heritage with my kids (and soon my own grandson Jacob, when he's old enough for gooey cookies).  They already love the scrapple that my Grandpa helped me learn to make before he passed away.

For a bit more background, my grandparents lived in rural Pennsylvania, where they were born.  Part of Grandma's family had been there since before the Revolutionary War, while Grandpa's paternal grandparents were German immigrants.  As a child, I loved our rare visits to their homestead called Squirrel Hill outside of Dallas, which is near Scranton and Wilkes-Barre.  When I was a young teenager, we moved from San Francisco back east to Maryland, so we saw them more often.  I learned to play Scotch Bridge at their dining room table, a game we have since passed along to the next generation.

It is also at Squirrel Hill that I met Jesus in 1976 at a family reunion.  You can read there story here: My Story of Liberty in 1976.

More on the Hess family on my old (outdated) web site here: Hess Family Heritage

Join Ann for Food on Fridays at


  1. This recipe is simple and very interesting. I believe I will add the peanut butter and chocolate when I make them! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I love the stories behind the recipes, Virginia, and of course the recipes themselves sound delicious (I like salty+sweet).

    So glad you linked this to Food on Fridays and we can share the reminiscing and nostalgia of our respective food heritage. Who would think that a simple memory of gumdrop cookies could pull up such strong taste memories for you?

  3. Looks like the perfect combination of salty and sweet!


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