In September 1992 I started 10th grade at Emma Willard School. Attending boarding school, let alone an all-girls institution, seems unusual to most people. A very small portion of the teenage population in the U.S. actually elects to live away from home during high school. And I was part of that minority.
Though I had enjoyed my education in Cooperstown, by the time I reached 9th grade I couldn't wait to flee small town America. I fully embraced the idea of being independent of my parents, studying in an environment where academia reigned supreme, and living on a campus where each room had Ivy league-esque vaulted gothic ceilings.
I loved every minute of my time at Emma Willard. For three years I filled my days with studying, writing, eating, playing sports, hanging with friends, and studying some more. In fact, to this day I could hardly tell you one thing I didn't enjoy about my time there. I made my best friends in the world, learned more about arts, culture and science then I ever thought possible, and gained a healthy dose of self-confidence to boot. But, I'll be honest, there was one thing that was absolutely awful about boarding school life: the food.
As one might expect, like most cafeterias pre-food revolution, the culinary selections at Emma Willard were dreadful. Each day my options consisted of watery overcooked cod, dry rice or rubber chicken. For most meals I would unhappily consume a bowl of cereal alongside an english muffin pizza, assembled from the measly salad bar pickings. In fact, I surmise that I ate this for lunch or dinner at least once a day - if not for both. My classmates didn't think much of the fare offered either. So much so that at the end of each week the kitchen would lump together all of the leftovers from the past seven days (there were a lot!) into one grotesque casserole coined "Shepard's Pie." When a friend's family served me Shepard's Pie in Scotland during college I thought I would have to choke it down out of politeness, until I realized that real Shepard's pie is actually delicious. What we ate at Emma Willard bore no resemblance to the British dish whatsoever.
However, there was one thing that we loved in the Emma Willard cafeteria: Chinese Chews. Like all normal teenagers, what we didn't eat for dinner we made up for in dessert. (Thank goodness we participated in mandatory sports programs!) And this one had been a favorite with Emma girls for several generations. I don't know how they were given their name, but the Chinese Chews we ate were deliciously sweet, chewy and chock full of wonderful ingredients like toasted pecans and sweetened coconut. Sometimes, when the cook was feeling generous, he added chocolate chips as well. Luckily, a foodie to the end, I was able to score the recipe for Chinese Chews from Nancy, a fellow alumna, several years after I graduated.
I made these Chews recently and even my in-laws agreed that they are delicious. They are rich, buttery and as close to a candy bar as I am ever going to make at home. One of the secrets is the large amount of brown sugar that is used. When the coconut mixture is poured over the crust it puffs up while it bakes forming a layer of coconut chocolate blondie, on top of the already buttery crust. I know one of the reasons I loved these as a teenager is because they were so intensely sweet that they made my fillings ring. I am sure this is the same reason my daughter loves them today. Like most baked goods I have no trouble preparing these while she naps. Then I let them cool and serve them for dessert with a big bowl of vanilla ice-cream.
I am happy to report that the Emma Willard cafeteria is in much better shape these days. Last year I returned to campus as was thrilled to see that the chef is committed to serving organic food, sourced locally whenever possible, as well as organic milks and beverages. Additionally, last year the impressive environmentally conscious students elected to forgo using trays in order to save the water used to clean them, as well as committed to using only two napkins per student per meal to avoid wasting paper. Every time I visit I am thrilled with their progress and the selection of gorgeous food available at each meal. And, I'm also glad to find that Chinese Chews are still on the menu.
Emma Willard's Chinese Chews
a recipe from the Emma Willard cafeteria circa 1975, and ever since...
1/2 c. butter
1 c. flour
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. brown sugar
1/4 t. baking soda
Pinch of salt
2 T. all-purpose flour, heaping
3/4 c. pecans, chopped
1 c. shredded coconut, sweetened
1/2 c. chocolate chips, tossed with 1 t. flour (chips are optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9x9 baking pan and set aside.
2. Cream together butter, flour and brown sugar. Press into the bottom of the baking pan and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
3. Cream together sugar and eggs. Then add baking soda, salt and flour. Stir to combine. Finally, add pecans, coconut and chocolate chips. Stirring gently with a wooden spoon, mix until everything is combined.
4. Pour Chew mixture on top of the cool crust and return to the oven. Bake for 25-28 minutes, or until crust has formed and is golden brown.
Naptime Recipe props: Sometimes I am just in the mood for a sweet dessert and this one always fits the bill. If you don't want chocolate chips simply omit them. Or, you could add white chocolate or butterscotch chips in their place.
Naptime Stopwatch: Preparing the batter takes about 10 minutes and the remainder of the preparation time is used for baking.
Naptime Reviews: Everyone in my family has a sweet tooth, so this was sure to please. Sometimes, when I have people over, I cut them into bit size pieces for the perfect sweet nibble.