Sunday, June 20, 2021

Cherry Bars Baked in the Hayes-Custer

In my last post, I said that I would be bringing a series of posts to you about cooking out in the summer kitchen.  I've started those, but this isn't one of them.  

We have five sour cherry trees here on our farm.  Three are courtesy of my grandparents, and the other two are volunteer children of our venerated Montmorency cherry tree.  The Montmorency cherries are my favorite, but they aren't quite ready yet.  Nancy and I did pick from the other two dwarf cherry trees yesterday, though, and as she is not a pie lover, I made cherry bars.  I've seen this recipe in several places, but we first had these in the early 80s after my aunt Rhonda Jo made them.  Now, they are a recipe that I will forever associate with her.

I think Rhonda Jo probably made them with canned cherry pie filling, but since we are starting with fresh fruit, the first thing we had to do is convert the cherries into pie filling.  To do that we use an old Kitchen Klatter recipe that my Great-Grandma Ruth very likely copied down as she was listening to the radio.  

For one batch of cherry pie filling, you need the following:

4 cups of fresh cherries

1 to 1 1/2 cups cherry juice (the juice from the cherries should be sufficient)

1 cup sugar

3 to 4 Tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon almond flavoring

This avocado green plastic colander belonged to Granny,
my paternal grandmother, and I've been picking cherries
into it for almost forty years.

Of course, you first have to pit the cherries, saving as much of the juice as you can.  The process of pitting cherries by hand is messy and not an appropriate place for a camera, so there are no pictures of that step.  Sorry.  

Both of my grandmothers, Meme, and my mom were all very thrifty cooks, and very little of the produce that we grew here at home went to waste.  I grew up watching this team of women work for hours over dishpans of wormy apples just to save whatever they could for human consumption.  Hence, Granny always made us save the pits as we processed cherries.  She would then put just the tiniest bit of water on them in a saucepan and bring them to a boil on the stove to get as much of the cherry juice as possible.  I don't know whether this is necessary or not, but this is what she always did, so I continue the tradition.
The cherry pits and a splash of water coming to
a boil over a freshly started fire in the Hayes-Custer
in the summer kitchen.

The boiling cherry pits.

Once you have all of the juice drained off the pits, place the four cups of cherries, the juice, one cup of sugar and 3 to 4 Tablespoons of cornstarch in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  

Start cooking this mixture directly over the firebox, but when it begins to thicken, move it to the middle of the cooktop to continue cooking until the desired thickness is reached.

Hint: This step can be a bit tricky.  Sometimes (often), this has not wanted to thicken for me.  I discovered that if you strain the cherries from the juice and cook just the juice, sugar, and cornstarch directly over the fire, once it reaches a good boil, it will thicken when you add the cherries back into the hot mixture.

It has been extremely dry around here this spring, though, and we had a hard time getting much juice to come out of the cherries at all.  Thus, yesterday, I actually had to add a little boiling water from the teakettle in order to thin the mixture to an appropriate consistency.  You just have to watch and be careful!

Remove the cherry mixture from the stove and stir in a 1/2 tsp. almond flavoring.  Set aside.

For the batter, you will need 1 cup of very soft butter (no substitutes) and 1 3/4 cups of sugar.  

Please pardon my avocado green Sunbeam Mixmaster.
It is uglier than sin.  It belonged to Granny, and when I 
inherited it 26 years ago, I thought I would just use it
until it died.  The thing has to be near to fifty years old now
and shows no sign of dying anytime soon.  How I wish she'd
bought a white one!

Cream the butter and the sugar together until smooth.

Add four eggs to the butter and sugar mixture.

To the above, beat in 1 tsp. vanilla, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder.

Stir in 3 cups of sifted all-purpose flour.  Good luck trying to keep from tasting the batter at this point.  It is SO GOOD!

Spread two-thirds of the batter into the bottom of a greased jelly roll pan.

Spread the cherry filling over the bottom layer of batter, and then dollop the remaining batter on the top.

Bake in a moderate oven for about a half hour until it begins to pull away from the edges and is golden brown.

Doesn't the Hayes-Custer do a nice job
of baking?


If you want to freeze sour cherries for later use in pie filling, pour the cherry juice from cooking the pits, the four cups of cherries, and the cup of sugar into a freezer container and freeze.  When ready for use, thaw, drain the sweetened juice off, add the starch and cook.  Add the cherries once the juice and starch have come to a boil and thickened.

If you were going to make a cherry pie with the filling, I would recommend adding a dash of cinnamon to it along with the almond flavoring.  JUST a dash, though.

These bars can be made with any type of canned pie filling.  Strawberry is one that I've seen fairly frequently.

Some people drizzle a little vanilla icing over these bars.  Now, I love frosting and put it only lots of things, however, I will admit to thinking that these are sweet enough without it.  You do what you want, though.


  1. These look delicious, Jim. I would never have dreamed of using the pits for juice. Thank you for another interesting post!

  2. Dear Readers: Jim gave me this recipe years ago. Can confirm, these bars are ridiculously good. 10/10