It is a bar dessert which requires no baking and is named after the west coast city of Nanaimo, British Columbia. It consists of a wafer crumb-based layer topped by a layer of light vanilla or custard flavoured butter icing which is covered with melted chocolate made from chocolate squares. Many varieties exist, consisting of different types of crumb, different flavours of icing (e.g., mint, peanut butter, coconut, mocha, butterscotch, etc.), and different types of chocolate.
The exact origin of the bar is unknown, though it is attributed to Nanaimo, British Columbia. Though the recipe was reported as appearing in the annual Ladysmith and Cowichan Women's Institute Cookbook, no such cookbook has been found and there is no record of this organization. The earliest confirmed printed copy of the recipe using the name "Nanaimo Bars" appears in the Edith Adams' prize cookbook (14th edition) from 1953. A copy of the book is on view at the Nanaimo museum.
However, following research into the origins of Nanaimo Bars, Lenore Newman writes that the same recipe was published in the Vancouver Sun earlier that same year under the name "London Fog Bar". The recipe later also appears in a publication entitled His/Her Favourite Recipes, Compiled by the Women's Association of the Brechin United Church (1957), with the recipe submitted by Joy Wilgress, a Baltimore, Maryland, native (p.52). (Brechin United Church is in Nanaimo.) This recipe also is reprinted in Kim Blank's book, Sex, Life Itself, and the Original Nanaimo Bar Recipe (Umberto Press, 1999, pp.127-29).
In 1954 the recipe "Mabel's Squares" (p.84) was published in "The Country Woman's Favorite" by the Upper Gloucester Women's Institute (New Brunswick). The recipe was submitted by Mrs. Harold Payne, the daughter of Mabel (Knowles) Scott (1883-1957). The ingredients list, quantities, and fabrication closely match the recipe found on the City of Nanaimo web site.
The first printing of recipes featuring Nanaimo Bar ingredients is found in the 1952 Women's Auxiliary to the Nanaimo Hospital Cookbook, which features three nearly identical recipes that differ only slightly from the modern Nanaimo Bar. They are referred to as the "Chocolate Square" or the "Chocolate Slice".
Other unconfirmed references date the bars back to the 1930s, when it was said to be known locally as "chocolate fridge cake". Some New Yorkers claim the recipe originated in New York and refer to them as "New York Slices". However, Tim Hortons coffee shops, a Canadian chain, sell them in New York as "Nanaimo Bars". One modern reference even refers to the bars' existing in nineteenth century Nanaimo.
The popularity of the bar in Nanaimo led local residents to mobilise to have it voted "Canada's Favourite Confection" in a National Post reader survey. In 1985, Mayor Graeme Roberts initiated a contest to find the ultimate Nanaimo bar recipe, and the recipe submitted by Joyce Hardcastle, a resident of Nanaimo, was unanimously selected by a panel of judges.
If you're visiting British Columbia, the official tourism site of Nanaimo Canada provides a map and a list of 34 places where you can find several variations of the confection including a deep fried Nanaimo bar and a Nanaimo bar tea latte.
|Joyce Hardcastle's Nanaimo Bar Recipe From Foodista Creative Commons|
½ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
1 egg beaten
1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
½ c. finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut
½ cup unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream
2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder
2 cups icing sugar
4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Bottom Layer: Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan. Second Layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer. Third Layer: Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.
Text Credits: Wikipedia || Nanaimo Canada || Foodista Creative Commons || Image Credit: Nanaimo Bar