Recipes and Remembering

Thumbing through Grandma’s recipe box is like taking a trip back in time. 

Many of the yellow-tinged, handwritten recipe cards have names of contributors along with a date.

This recipe for rhubarb oatmeal bars is no exception.  In my grandmother’s handwriting, in the upper right-hand corner is the note “Kay 8-69”.

Kay is my dad’s oldest sister.  They are so much alike those two.  Stoic, responsible and level-headed.  They have much of my grandma in them in that way, but there is a twinkle in their eyes that betrays my grandpa.

My grandpa died the month before I was born. It’s through the sparkle in their eyes that I have come to know his love of life and generosity.

Vernon Freeman Olson with friends.

Grandpa Vernon

The Recipe Card  

In August of 1969, my aunt would have been married for 7 years and the mother of a 6 year old and a 5 year old.  And undoubtedly very busy.

As I held the recipe card, I imagined her making these bars in the U-shaped kitchen in the house on Glenwood Avenue.  Chopping the garden-fresh rhubard on the Formica countertop at the pass-through.  Scooping flour from the Hoosier cupboard that sat along the far wall.  I loved that piece of furniture I think because I could see how much she loved it.   

My cousins wouldn’t have been too far from the kitchen.  Most likely in the front yard playing with matchbox cars.  She would have walked over the kitchen sink and looked out of the window to check on them every now and again. They were a little more than a year apart and always together.  And always thinking up some new adventure.

As she sprinkled the crumble over the top of the rhubarb after checking on the boys for the umpteenth time, the bars would have gone into the oven and she would set about cleaning the kitchen.  She was, and still is, one of the most meticulous house keepers I have ever met.  Dishes did not wait any longer than was absolutely necessary to be washed, dried and put away.

The timer on the avocado green GE would go off making that noise that it both indescribable and familiar. She would have pulled the oven rack forward with a quilted oven mitt looking for the golden-browness that indicated doneness.  When assured that the bars were done, she would have been set them on a to wire cooling rack next to the range.

As the boys came in from their matchbox car races to get washed up, they would have passed the bars sitting next to the oven knowing not to sneak tastes of sweets cooling on the counter.  We all seemed to know inherently that there would hell to pay if you did.

Rhubarb Oatmeal Bars, Coffee and Concrete Steps

Once cooled, the rhubarb oatmeal bars would have most likely been destined to accompany coffee when friends came over.  The huge, or so it had always seemed to me, antique clawfoot oak dining table would have been set with the rhubarb bars, a coffee carafe, dessert plates, tea spoons, coffee cups, napkins and cream and sugar.

The boys would have been sitting on the concrete step just outside the screen door on the side of the house enjoying their sweet snack and a glass of milk in the Eastern Montana sun while the ladies enjoyed each other’s company and this delicious spring pastry.

And all this from a 3 x 5 recipe card with a name and date.

Grandma Florence, Auntie Kay and Aunt Wanda and the farmhouse in Northern Minnesota.

Rhubarb Oatmeal Bar Recipe

Rhubarb Oatmeal Bar sitting on marble top with pink vintage plate and fork in the background.

Rhubarb Oatmeal Bars

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Course: Dessert, Dessert Bars
Cuisine: American
Servings: 24 bars
Calories: 208kcal
This recipe for rhubarb oatmeal bars from my Grandma’s recipe box carries with it memories of an avocado green oven, matchbox cars and a grandpa I never met.



  • 3 cup chopped rhubarb
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch , dissolved in 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  • 1 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 teaspoon soda
  • 1 cup butter , melted


  • Heat oven to 375˚ F.
  • To make filling, in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat combine rhubarb, sugar, cornstarch mixture and vanilla.
  • Heat until rhubarb is tender and mixture is thickened. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • To make crumble, in a large mixing bowl combine oatmeal, flour, sugar, soda and nuts. Pour melted butter over and mix until crumbly.
  • To assemble, press 3/4 of the crumble mixture into the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking pan.
  • Pour the rhubarb mixture over. Sprinkle the remaining crumble over the top
  • Bake until filling is bubbly and topping is golden brown, about 20 - 25 minutes.
  • Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


Serving: 12bars | Calories: 208kcal | Carbohydrates: 29.6g | Protein: 2.3g | Fat: 9.6g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 20mg | Sodium: 85mg | Potassium: 95mg | Fiber: 1.2g | Sugar: 18.7g | Calcium: 20mg | Iron: 0.7mg
Tried this recipe?Mention @theheritagecookbookproject or tag #theheritagecookbookproject!

Granma Florence

This is my Grandma Florence; my dad’s mother.  She was an accomplished baker and loved to make sure that her guests enjoyed their visits to the farm.  We loved our time on the farm.  Riding horses, collecting eggs from the chicken coop and playing dress-up.

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