Friday, April 4, 2014

The Mystique of the Nanaimo Bar



The Mystique of the Nanaimo Bar

By Kate Hoshimiya
The Daily Magi
November 3, 2067

The Nanaimo bar is a dessert item of Canadian origin popular across North America It is a bar dessert which requires no baking and is named after the former west coast city of Nanaimo, British Columbia (now the Nanaimo District of Mitakihara Town, B.C.). It consists of a wafer crumb-based layer topped by a layer of light vanilla or custard flavoured butter icing which is covered with melted chocolate made from chocolate squares. Many varieties exist, consisting of different types of crumb with different flavours of icing (e.g., mint, peanut butter, coconut) and different types of chocolate. Two popular variations on the traditional Nanaimo bar involve mint- or mocha-flavoured icing.

The exact origin of the bar is unknown, though it is attributed to Nanaimo District, Mitakihara Town, British Columbia. Though the recipe was reported as appearing in the annual Ladysmith and Cowichan Women's Institute Cookbook, no such cookbook has been found and there is no record of this organization. The earliest confirmed printed copy of the recipe using the name "Nanaimo Bars" appears in the Edith Adams' prize cookbook (14th edition) from 1953. A copy of the book is on view at the Nanaimo museum. The recipe also appears in a publication entitled His/Her Favourite Recipes, Compiled by the Women's Association of the Brechin United Church (1957), with the recipe submitted by Joy Wilgress, a Baltimore, Maryland, native (p.52). (Brechin United Church is in Nanaimo.) This recipe also is reprinted in Kim Blank's book, Sex, Life Itself, and the Original Nanaimo Bar Recipe (Umberto Press, 1999, pp.127-29).

In 1954 the recipe "Mabel's Squares" (p.84) was published in "The Country Woman's Favorite" by the Upper Gloucester Women's Institute (New Brunswick). The recipe was submitted by Mrs. Harold Payne, the daughter of Mabel (Knowles) Scott (1883-1957). The ingredients list, quantities, and fabrication closely match the recipe found on the City of Nanaimo web site.

The first printing of recipes featuring Nanaimo Bar ingredients is found in the 1952 Women's Auxiliary to the Nanaimo Hospital Cookbook. They are referred to as the "Chocolate Square" or the "Chocolate Slice".

Other unconfirmed references date the bars back to the 1930s, when it was said to be known locally as "chocolate fridge cake". Some New Yorkers claim the recipe originated in New York and refer to them as "New York Slices". However, Tim Hortons coffee shops, a Canadian chain, sell them in New York as "Nanaimo Bars". One modern reference even refers to the bars' existing in nineteenth century Nanaimo.

The popularity of the bar in Nanaimo led local residents to mobilise to have it voted "Canada's Favourite Confection" in a National Post reader survey. In 1985, Mayor Graeme Roberts initiated a contest to find the ultimate Nanaimo bar recipe, and the recipe submitted by Joyce Hardcastle, a resident of Nanaimo, was unanimously selected by a panel of judges.

Recipes for similar desserts are found in various places and under various names in North America and Europe. The designation "Nanaimo Bar" is Canadian; Nanaimo Bar appears in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary but not in other language or dialect versions. 1988, Stephano's Bakery in Killaloe, Ontario, created a version of Nanaimo Bars that they sold on college campuses throughout Ontario. The term is also common in the American Pacific Northwest and has been used in places such as New York City, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Sydney because of international popularization of the bar by the Seattle-based Starbucks coffee chain.

In the 2003 Christopher Guest movie A Mighty Wind, the character of Mickey Crabbe (a Canadian) says, ". . . I'd consider going home, making a nice tray of Nanaimo bars, lying in bed and watching TV--that's what I like doing".

In 2011 The Ron James Show, produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, explored the origins of the Nanaimo bar in a "mockumentary" segment where James traveled to Nanaimo, British Columbia when it was a separate city from Mitakihara Town.

Similar delicacies are found outside of Canada, particularly in the Pacific Northwest and New York City. They have been sold in Southport, United Kingdom, in shops and restaurants since the 1980s. In 2009, Dirt Candy, a New York City restaurant owned and operated by Chef Amanda Cohen, put a version of Nanaimo bars on the menu, inspiring several Canadians to protest that their unique dessert was being Americanized. Nanaimo bars can also be found in Australian coffee shops in large cities. Nanaimo Bars are also sold in Vientiane, Laos, at some small coffee shops along the Mekong River.

The Nanaimo Bar has been the official city dessert of Mitakihara Town since 2011, alongside raw cacao nibs.

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