Thursday, August 18, 2022

Orange-Raisin Squares

When I showed this recipe to friends, most of them asked "What do they mean, seedless raisins?"

Mrs. David K Harris, Philadelphia Inquirer Recipe Exchange, 1935

Orange Raisin Squares
1½ c seedless raisins
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp quick cooking tapioca (or cornstarch)
1 c hot water
Juice of 1 lemon
    Orange Pastry:
2 c pastry flour*
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
⅔ c shortening (I used butter)
¼ to ⅓ c orange juice
Milk for brushing

Heat oven to 375°. Grease a 9" or 10" square pan
To make the filling, cook all the ingredients in a double boiler (or over medium heat, scraping the bottom of the pot really well) until thickened. Set aside to cool completely.
While the filling is cooling, make the orange pastry. Mix the dry ingredients together. Then cut in the shortening. Add enough orange juice to make a dough.
Divide the dough in half, and roll out one portion until it covers the bottom of the pan.
Put the (cooled) filling on top of the pastry. Then roll out the other portion of dough to make the top crust. Lay it over everything and then prick with a fork. Brush the top with milk.
Bake 20 minutes. When cold, cut into squares.

*Just use all-purpose. It'll be fine.
I used juice concentrate instead.

Source: Mrs. David K Harris, 838 S Franklin St, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Inquirer Recipe Exchange, June 21 1935 morning edition, p. 12

It seems that most people I know had a terrible experience when the chocolate chips in some cookies turned out to be terrible, awful, slimy, sticky raisins. As for myself, I don't exactly love raisins, but I do think they add nice little spots of concentrated tartness to oatmeal cookies and a few other things. And so, after subjecting myself to the awful, bitter, cookie-ruining walnuts, I am indulging in another polarizing ingredient.

During the free trial that sent me on a recipe-screenshotting binge that lasted until the end of the weekend at midnight Mountain Standard Time, I was surprised to find that most of the newspaper recipes came from syndicated columns. I thought at least a few newspapers would have their own cookery columnists on staff, but apparently that was rare. This disappointed me. I didn't want to see what was approved for national distribution, I wanted to see what was actually cooking in the kitchen of people who were not professional home economists with publishing contracts. This brings us to the source of today's recipe:

During the 1930s, the Philadelphia Inquirer had a weekly recipe exchange. That's two full newspaper pages of recipes every week from the houses of ordinary people instead of some far-off test kitchen full of professionals. If your recipe was one of those chosen for printing, not only would the entire greater Philadelphia area see it with your name, but you would win a $2 basket of groceries. That's, like, $45 in 2022. Doesn't $45 in groceries sound like a minor yet marvelous windfall in a time of economic uncertainty? This week, Mrs. David K Harris of Wilkes-Barre won a $2 grocery basket with these squares of citrus and raisins.


I should note that we're using orange juice concentrate because we have it on hand. We keep a can of it in the freezer and scoop out generous spoonfuls of it to add to marinades. I'm sure Mrs. Harris (and anyone else doing the daily cooking with a Depression on) would understand that we want to reduce the cost of this recipe by the cost of a fruit. In further economization, we bought neither fresh lemons nor the cheapest bottle of lemon juice to use in the raisin filling. We still had frozen lemon juice from the lemon cream cookies that used only the lemon rind. "Helping the Homemaker" lived up to its name and spared us the price of a lemon.

The raisin filling bore a strong resemblance to the beginning of a raisin cake we made one winter-- and an even stronger resemblance to the honey and dried fruit pie that is now one of our favorite Pieathlon recipes. 

I thought this looks like a really nice wintertime recipe. The ingredients seem right for that time of year. A lot of older stories get lovingly reminiscent about getting an orange for Christmas, so apparently citrus could keep fresh into the bleak midwinter. And of course, raisins have the shelf life of dried fruit. 

But upon checking the date on this recipe, it came out in mid-June. I'd have thought the economical home cook of 1935 would be more inclined to take advantage of the fresh summer produce and let the dried fruits wait until snow season. But then again, it's the middle of summer and I'm making this very recipe.

Not a fresh fruit in sight.

As we arrived at the point of final assembly, it became obvious that I had erred in pan size selection. I had halved the recipe and therefore used a little pan. However, this recipe already uses a small pan, and cutting it in half meant that even the tiniest pan in the house wasn't little enough. I could barely coax the raisins to spread from edge to edge. The orange pastry had to be rolled so thin it threatened to rip like wet paper. 

At any rate, we were ready to bake these at--- hold on a minute. There is no way 475° can be right. You'd burn a pizza baking it at 475° for twenty minutes, even if it was still frozen when you put it in the oven. For our Celsius friends, 475°F is about 250°C, which you may recognize as way too hot for baking cookies. I decided this must be a typesetting error and set the oven to 375° (that's about 190°C for everyone outside the US) instead. 

I felt a little bad for Mrs. David K Harris. Someone (I'm guessing) grabbed a 4 instead of a 3 when typesetting the oven temperature, which added 100 degrees to it. Then the misprinted recipe was distributed all the way from Harrisburg to Trenton with her name and address below it.

Every time I make orange-flavored recipes, I'm always surprised that they're never orange-colored without a bit of artificial assistance. Maybe people in the days before this recipe was vintage didn't expect every orange-flavored baked good to identify itself by color, but in this era it is a bit jarring for the orange pastry to have the same color as the vanilla one.

This recipe tastes exactly like what goes into it. I kind of expected the orange and the raisins to meld and harmonize into something greater than themselves, but they did not. Nevertheless, orange and raisins go very well together. The orange-raisin squares kind of remind me of Fig Newtons with the shortbread encasing a dense brown filling. If you like raisins (or whatever dried fruit you might substitute), this is an easy, economical, and all-around nice way to cook them. Orange-raisin squares may not be the first thing to disappear from a cookie table, but they won't be the last neglected rejects either.


  1. Not a huge fan of raisins, but I'll bet this would be really good with craisins.

    1. I bet it would. I'd cut the amount in half unless you really like tart cookies, though.

  2. I'm loving the week of posts! I can actually see using dried fruits in June. When you think about it, fruit ripening depends on the weather. Also, it all ripens at the same time, and would probably be canned quickly. There was also a spring several years ago where the fruit trees all flowered, then got a hard frost. My friends spent the entire summer watching the lone surviving peach on their tree, only to see it get blown down and bitten by a squirrel. They chased the squirrel off, cut out the part he bit, and ate it anyway.

    1. Thank you! I didn't think about summer dried fruits that way and it makes really good sense.
      Also, that sounds like a terrible peach season! I would have been so mad I'd have tried to turn that squirrel into a small hat. It makes me think of one year when all the farmers' markets had signs over the apples that said "Our apples are not bruised, there was a HAIL STORM (this was in extra-large letters) in April!"