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.

MOTHER’S BROWN SUGAR 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.

MOTHER’S QUICK CARAMEL FROSTING

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

V-J Day in Cincinnati -1945

In August of 1945, I was 12 years old, enjoying the last month of vacation before entering the 8th grade at old Highland School in the East End neighborhood of Cincinnati.

I was obsessed with the Cincinnati Reds who were just terrible that year, but I followed them on the radio, listening to Waite Hoyt’s expert calls interspersed with his stories about the 1927 Yankees where he had been a star pitcher and teammate of Babe Ruth.

V-E Day (the end of the war in Europe) had occurred in May and everyone was hoping and praying for the end of the war in Japan.  I remember seeing pictures in magazines of how things would be once the war was over.  I was particularly impressed with a picture of a candy store display that actually had chocolate bars along with the Chuckles gum drops, taffy and hard candy we were used to seeing throughout the war.

My father showed me a picture of an early television set in one of his radio magazines and promised that soon we would have one of those contraptions in our house where we could watch all kinds of shows, movies and sporting events.  It seemed like all the good things would never happen, but then on August 14, 1945, we got the radio announcement and the headlines in the Cincinnati Post – the war was over!

After supper, it seemed like we ought to do something to celebrate.  My parents weren’t big on celebrations or crowds, but my father thought it would be appropriate to ride into downtown Cincinnati and see what was going on.

My father had a succession of cars throughout the war, patching them up and trying to get them to last the duration.  The one we had in August of 1945 was a coupe with a rumble seat, rare even in those wartime days.


My parents got into the coupe and my sister and I got into the rumble seat.  We drove to downtown Cincinnati and the hub of the city around Fountain Square.  The night of V-J Day was absolute bedlam with people crowding the streets, hanging out of windows, cruising around in their cars wasting valuable rationed gasoline, and screaming at the top of their lungs.   This seemed to be a purely spontaneous celebration – no speeches, no politicians, no music – and when we came rolling down the street in our aged car with the rumble seat, we immediately got everybody’s attention.  At least, here was something to watch – not a parade or band – but something different to see.  Even with all the old automobiles in use during the war, rumble seats were a novelty.  My sister and I smiled, waved and enjoyed the attention.

My sister and I – 1945

Then we made our way out of town and back home to hopes of a bright tomorrow with the return of three uncles who had been on various battlefronts for almost 4 years.

Soon, chocolate bars began appearing in the display case of Schreck’s delicatessen on the corner of our street, and the uncles were all back with their families.

In a few years my father built one of the first television sets in the city (extremely primitive with a tiny postcard sized picture).  The war was finally over.