Friday, May 18, 2007

Bettye's coconut chocolate pecan (walnut) bars

It's my yearly turn to show up to at the temple tonight with 120 cookies for "oneg" (refreshment).

I must say, the idea of bribing people to attend services (with delicious treats afterwards) is clever. I bet there are people who, on the line about whether to get up out of their recliners and stagger off to the synagogue, think about the brownies and say, "Oh, I can do it."

This time I decided to try some recipes which have been in my box for years but never tested.

Recipe number one is from my first stepmother, Bettye. My dad met her when, exhausted and disillusioned after a rotten divorce and too many years of running a cut-throat manufacturing company based in Manhattan, he was doing freelance work at "Choretime Farm Equipment" in Alabama. Choretime had a wonderful polo shirt, its emblem a pig wearing an engineering cap. My dad promised to get me one but he never did.

He never told my brothers and me he was getting remarried, he just did it. A year or two later I made my first trip south, combining a visit to the "First Annual Sacred Harp Singing Convention" in Birmingham with a visit to Hartselle, Alabama, where he lived with his new wife and stepchildren.

I remember getting out of the car and staring in astonishment at a harvested cotton field - the cotton balls on the end of the twigs looked utterly preposterous, as though some ignorant, demented set designer had cobbled up this outlandish arrangement.

Bettye was a wonderful woman, salty and kind. My brothers took to her instantly and sopped up the love she offered them. It was harder for me - liking Bettye so much, I felt disloyal to my own mother.

Bettye had a great Alabama accent. When she said her daughter's name, "Joy," it took four syllables.

She was a smoker, which my dad hated but tolerated. She got lung cancer but they caught it early and her prognosis was excellent. Then her only son was killed by a drunk driver who later DROVE TO HER HOUSE WITHOUT A LICENSE (because this was not his first highway accident) to ask her to go easy on him!

Perhaps in fury or despair, she started smoking again. The cancer came back and she died, much too young.

Here is her recipe for a gloppy, delicious dessert bar.

Bettye's coconut chocolate pecan (or walnut) bars

10 tablespoons butter
2-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (around half a box)
2 cups flaked coconut
3 6-oz bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips
2-1/4 cups of Eagle brand condensed milk (about 1-1/2 cans)
2 cups pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Melt the butter in the bottom of a glass lasagna pan and stir in the crumbs; press gently to make bottom layer.

Spread coconut over the crumbs. Spread chips over the coconut.

Pour the condensed milk evenly across the whole mess. Put the nuts on top of the condensed milk. Press it all together a little bit. Cook for 30 minutes.

Important: don't cut into bars until lukewarm or they'll crumble. They taste MUCH MUCH better the next day so make ahead

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