Mother’s Brown Sugar Brownies

In 1945, I was 13 years old, in the 8th grade at old Highland School in Cincinnati’s East End.

I especially loved my home economics cooking class and our teacher, Mrs. Geoghan.  We spent a lot of time chatting together and she would show me a few vintage (even at that time) cookbooks she had on her desk.  I especially coveted one called All About Home Baking published by General Foods in 1933.  There were a few pages in color that I really enjoyed…

….and loads of black and white how-to photographs along with their great recipes.

I wasn’t in the habit of asking for things, even of my parents, but for some reason felt comfortable in asking Mrs. Geoghan if I could have this book – and she gave it to me!

It was an absolute treasure to me – I read and reread the recipes and gazed at the pictures, imagining myself making all of these wonderful baked goods.

My mother didn’t own a cookbook and normally didn’t keep recipes, but she did write a favorite brownie and frosting recipe on a back page in the book.

These brownies were in her repertoire of brunch-type foods to make in the summertime when my sister and I would sleep until almost noon and come downstairs to a baked treat of some kind.  She didn’t include instructions for the brownies, but I made some recently to see if they were as good as I remembered them.  They are.  I omitted the frosting this time but it’s also delicious and easy to make.

I baked mine the way Mother always made hers – in a 9×13 pan which results in a very thin bar.  We only had butter in the house for Thanksgiving, so I’m sure she used margarine (oleo) for her frosted brownies.


  • Servings: 12-16, depending on size
  • Print

  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1-½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • ½ cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

Grease and flour a 9×13 baking pan

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar, add the egg.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Stir into the butter mixture just until blended.  Stir in vanilla and nuts.  Spread and pat into a greased and floured 9×13 pan.

Bake @ 350 degrees for approximately 12-15 minutes.  Bars should be slightly soft when removed from oven.  Place on a rack to cool.

Serve plain or with Mother’s Quick Caramel Frosting.  Cut into bars to serve.


1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
2 Tblsp. butter
2 Tblsp. water
1 tsp. vanilla
1-½ cups confectioners’ sugar

Put brown sugar, butter and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Cool slightly.  Add vanilla and confectioners’ sugar.  Beat well and spread on brownies. 

This wonderful cookbook often turns up in antique malls and in various versions on a lot of websites such as Amazon and eBay.

My Mother, 1945

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Lillian Applegate Westfelt was a mother of 4, grandmother of 6, and great-grandmother of 3. She was an 86-year-old widow living in a nice little bungalow with her oldest daughter and a beagle-dachsund named Addie. She passed away in November, 2018.

13 thoughts on “Mother’s Brown Sugar Brownies”

    1. Isn’t that great! It has a lot of good recipes in it. Some day, I need to go through the book and make the recipes I haven’t tried yet. Lillian

    1. Thank you for visiting my blog and for introducing me to yours. I just read through a couple of the more recent posts and they are absolutely charming. I can’t wait to go back and read some more. I’m going to subscribe to your blog so I can see what new photos and stories you come up with. Lillian

  1. Mrs Geoghan would be so proud of the cook that she helped to create. What a treasure to have the old cookbook. I have my old Betty Crocker cookbook in1954, that i got before I was married. I did everything Betty Crocker said to do, I think if she said “stand on your head and stir” I would have done it.

  2. I love vintage cookbooks! I especially love to go through and read people’s handwritten comments about the recipes. I can smell those brownies baking now! Yum!

  3. I have tried this recipe twice – and it’s so dry I can’t even spread it in the pan – could you please double check your recipe for a liquid ingredient. Oh, and I ordered the cookbook from eBay and love it, too!

    The egg is the only liquid and with 1-1/2 Cups of flour it doesn’t work.

    Thanks – Becky in VA (Civil War BOW)

    1. I’m so sorry the recipe didn’t work. I made the brownies as I was posting the recipe originally, but I’ll make another batch tomorrow and see if I can spot the problem. Lillian

  4. I made another batch this evening and I would not describe the mixture as dry – I’d say more like soft cookie dough. I’m going to change my post to say to “spread” rather than “pour” the mixture into the pan. It’s like a big cookie that is cut into squares. Knowing my mother, it probably called for a 9×9 pan originally but she always stretched everything to feed as many people as possible.

    I did measure my egg and it was almost 1/4 cup – that might make a little bit of difference.

    I’m glad you were able to get the cookbook – it’s a great book.

    You are the last person in the world for whom I would want one of my recipes to fail after being inspired by your gorgeous Civil War blocks for the entire year of 2011.

    Thank you for pointing out the problem. I like to have my recipes as accurate as possible.

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