Nanaimo bar

Nanaimo bar
Traditional Nanaimo Bars
A Nanaimo bar in detail

The Nanaimo bar is a dessert of Canadian origin popular across North America. The Nanaimo bar is a bar cookie 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 in chocolate made from melted chocolate squares. Many varieties are possible by using different types of crumb, flavours of icing (e.g. mint, peanut butter), and types of chocolate. Two popular variations on the traditional Nanaimo bar involve mint flavoured icing or mocha flavoured icing.



The bar originated in Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, south of Nanaimo in the early 1950s. Mabel Jenkins, a local housewife from Cowichan Bay, submitted the recipe to the annual Ladysmith and Cowichan Women's Institute Cookbook. This cookbook was sold in the early 1950s in the region as a fundraiser. It became popular in many of the province's households, especially in company towns, and was sold in many of the coffee shops on Nanaimo's Commercial Street. Tourists in the region, especially US tourists on pleasure boats came to refer to these as "Nanaimo Bars". In Nanaimo and points south to Duncan, however, these were originally referred to as Mabel bars, or W.I. bars. The earliest confirmed printed copy of the recipe using the name "Nanaimo Bars" 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 "Mable's Squares" (p.84) was published in "The Country Woman's Favourite" by the Upper Gloucester Women's Institute (New Brunswick). The recipe was submitted by Mrs. Harold Payne, the daughter of Mable (Knowles) Scott (1883-1957). The ingredient list, quantities, and assembly steps 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. They are referred to as the Chocolate Square or the Chocolate Slice. Some say the first use of the name Nanaimo Bar was in an Edith Adams cookbook printed in 1953.

Other unconfirmed references date the bars back to the 1930s, when it was said to be known locally as "chocolate fridge cake".[1] Some New Yorkers claim that it originated in New York, and refer to them as "New York Slices".[2] 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.[3]

Nanaimo's culture

The popularity of the bar in Nanaimo led local residents to mobilise to have it elected "Canada's Favourite Confection" in a National Post reader survey.[4] 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.[5]

Recipes for similar desserts are found in various places and under various names in North America and Europe. The designation "Nanaimo Bar" is Canadian; Nanaimo Bar appears in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary[6] but not in other language or dialect versions.[7] The term is also common in the American Pacific Northwest, and has been used in places such as New York City, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Sydney because of international popularization of the bar by the Seattle-based Starbucks coffee chain.[citation needed]

In the 2003 Christopher Guest movie A Mighty Wind, the character of Mickey Crabbe (a Canadian) says, ". . . I'd consider going home, making a nice tray of Nanaimo bars, lying in bed and watching TV -- that's what I like doing."

Outside Canada

Similar desserts are found outside of Canada, particularly in New York City. These have been sold in Southport, United Kingdom in shops and restaurants since the 1980s. Nanaimo bars can also be found in Australian coffee shops in large cities.[citation needed]


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