I have always enjoyed baking. After I landed my first job out of college, I was fortunate enough to find an affordable apartment with a huge kitchen. That Christmas, my grandparents set me up with all the bakeware I could imagine. But perhaps more importantly, my grandma, Norma Harris of Warren, gave me my own copies of some family recipes that I'd always enjoyed.
It's a tradition in my family that we all get together at my grandparents' on Sunday nights. One Sunday after I'd started my job at the Meadville Tribune in Pennsylvania, I announced my intention to collect some of the recipes I'd grown up with. Grandma took out some index cards and promptly wrote down three: one for her favorite pie crust, one for the strawberry pie I loved, and one for fruit squares. Any kind of pie filling can be used for fruit squares, but in my family, we always ended up using cherry.
When we decided to use family recipes for this round of Tribune Cooks, I knew right away that I'd be making a batch of cherry squares. I'm not sure what the origin of this recipe is. A Web search brought up some very similar, though not completely identical recipes, but I have no way of determining the original source.
The recipe for fruit squares has been passed down through four generations of my family. My grandmother, Norma Harris, gave me a copy of the recipe on an index card. Incidentally, the cherry square is displayed on my good china, which I got when Grandma decided she didn’t want it anymore.
According to my grandma, I'm the fourth generation in our family to make this tasty dessert. "I know they've been in the family for a long time," she told me. "My mother made them. When my three daughters all got married, I gave them recipes."
When I was diagnosed with celiac disease in the summer of 2006, I had to start adapting my favorite family recipes to make them gluten-free. For cherry squares, I normally use Gluten-Free Naturals Cookie Blend in place of the all-purpose flour. Not having any on hand this time, I used Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free Baking Mix instead with 1/2 teaspoon of xanthan gum. The Cookie Blend often leaves the cherry squares a little more crumbly than I'd like. With the Bob's Red Mill mix, the cherry squares came out nice and firm, just like Mom and Grandma used to make. I may switch to using the Bob's Red Mill mix to make cherry squares from now on.
Switching to a gluten-free diet is anxiety-inducing on its own, but one thing that worried me (and other celiacs, too, I'm sure) was the idea of not being to eat some of my favorite family recipes. Luckily for me, the improvements in gluten-free baking mixes have made it fairly easy to modify recipes like cherry squares.
Mixing things up
We're changing things up for this round of Tribune Cooks stories and recipes.
In addition to returning cooks, Kathleen Evanoff, Niles Times and community news editor; Andy Gray, entertainment editor; Brenda Linert, metro editor; Sarah Sepanek, copy editor; and Mary Beth Wyko, features editor; we have some new faces in the kitchen. Beky Davis, special projects editor, and Amanda Smith-Teutsch, reporter, will be cooking up stories and recipes for Tribune readers.
For the next few months, the Tribune Cooks will have the option to write about family recipes, recipes of their own invention, or selections from the Best of Taste of Home, Vol. 2, cookbook, which is available for purchase at the Tribune Chronicle.
Features editor Mary Beth Wyko gets things started with a recipe for cherry squares, which was given to her by her grandmother.
We would love to hear what you think about the Tribune Cooks. Feel free to e-mail the Tribune Cooks at the addresses provided at the bottom of the stories, or visit www.tribtoday.com to post your comments.
My family often has cherry squares at summer picnics. There's just something summery about the tart, cherry flavor and the hint of lemon in the cake-y portion of the squares, though I did request them for my birthday back in March. Plus, the red and white color makes them look patriotic for the Fourth of July.
"It's a finger food," Grandma said when I asked her why she thought we kept passing down the recipe for cherry squares. "It's like cookies. You can pick it up and eat a piece any time."