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Picnic Congo Squares

June 17, 2021

Annie Nardone

Cooking well doesn’t mean cooking fancy.

— Julia Child


Warm, summer days bring so many sweet memories and many are inspired by finding a special recipe that was an important part of my childhood.

I was searching through my wooden recipe box the other day for a quick and easy treat to wrap as teacher gifts. As I thumbed through the clippings and cards for just-the-right thing (no cupcakes because the frosting will melt, cookies take too long, muffins are, well, glorified cupcakes), the edge of a yellowed envelope caught my eye. This envelope held my oldest family recipes that were handed down to me from grandmas, great aunts, and my mom. Gramma’s recipe for sour cream cookies is carefully written in script on old note paper from a feed and seed company so old, the phone number is 433-W2. Some recipes are nothing but an ingredient list, so first I must solve the riddle of what is made from mashed potatoes, flour, eggs and Cream of Wheat. (Ah yes, dumplings.) All the slips and small newspaper bits listing the ingredients of warm fragrances and good food that stood the test of time.

Then I found it: the small, yellowed newspaper clipping held to a handwritten note by a slightly rusted paper clip. Mom had jotted the note on a hotel notepad, informing me “I won a contest on these Congo Squares – Make them in a jelly roll pan – Enjoy. The little recipe from an old newspaper cooking contest does indeed feature her name and our first home address. These small-town contests afforded certain bragging rights around the coffee table and I smiled to think about mom searching through the paper and seeing her name in print below her family’s favorite bar. (That term may be regional to the Midwest; ‘bar’ was a sweeping generalization much like ‘cookie.’ There could be a hundred ways to make them, but they were always called bars.)

Congo Squares were a part of every picnic, family reunion, fishing trip, and camping weekend because they were sturdy in the heat and able to keep their yummy, crispy top over a long, outdoorsy weekend. Mom would bake a batch or two the morning of our adventures, then they were cut into squares, layered between sheets of wax paper, and tucked into an old Tupperware box.

I was curious about the somewhat odd and slightly exotic name, so I did a bit of investigating. According to a few sources, a Congo Square is a blondie with the name inspired by the Congo Room of Las Vegas and, of all places, the Congo Room of Canton, Ohio. We don’t know if these were served as dessert in the clubs, but that seems probable as these bars date back to the 1950s. And a final suggestion — you might look at the ingredients and wince at the amounts. Just throw caution to the wind and follow the recipe. These bars are chewy and delightfully dense, with gooey bits of chocolate in every bite.

What you need:

2 1/4 cups flour

2 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup butter

2 1/4 cups brown sugar

3 eggs

1 cup broken nuts (optional, but we use walnuts)

1 6 oz. package (a heaping cup) chocolate chips


What you do:

  1. Mix or sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
  2. Melt butter and add brown sugar, then stir until well mixed. Allow to cool
  3. Add eggs into butter mixture one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Add dry ingredients, then nuts and chocolate chips.
  5. Stir to combine well.
  6. Pour into a greased 9 x 13 pan and bake at 350˚ for 25 to 30 minutes.


The featured image is courtesy of Annie Nardone and used with gracious permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project. 


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  1. Linda says:

    Congo squares were a treat my dear mother-in-law used to make. Our family loved them and we have passed the recipe around. We always think of her when we bake them. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Linda, I’m so glad you enjoyed the memories that go along with this vintage recipe! These were very popular ‘back in the day’ and I think they are one of our favorites too! It’s so important to have special traditional recipes to pass on each generation.

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