It’s kind of funny how certain dishes become favorites/standards. I’ve spent the past 10 + years cooking at this 100-person farm community, have cooked a wide variety of dishes with varying popularity, from gnocchi to raw VGF dressings and everything in between. My usual back-up list of dishes that are easy to fill in an empty slot at a meal includes mac & cheese, lentils, spiced rice, spiced molasses cake, baked potatoes, garlic bread, salads, and of course whichever veggies are in seasonal abundance. But it wasn’t until this year that I developed a recipe that seems to have become a popular staple here, that could get made fresh and eaten up each day, that’s also easy enough to make with cheap enough ingredients. I started making these peanut bars as an easy grab-and-go snack that’s also semi-nutritious, with protein and not super sweet, and even sneak some whole grains in there. Something quickly accessible to our busy farmers and factory workers, since we supply lots of ingredients & leftovers, but not so many ready snacks. There’s homemade granola, bread, yogurt, and things that require bowls. This treat may not be from the garden, but it’s homemade & well-loved. Now I make this recipe (which fills our largest sheet pan) a couple times a week, and they all get gobbled up.
I use organic peanut butter (smooth or crunchy) from our friends at East Wind Nut Butters in Missouri. They also make a delicious “mystery butter,” with part cashew, part almond butter and sometimes a hint of tahini – that worked well when I tried it in this recipe once, so if you don’t eat peanuts, feel free to substitute any nut butter. Peanuts and sunflower seeds, easily grown domestically, are cheaper, more sustainable nuts than almonds, cashews, or the like. As much as I love almonds and cashews, they take tons of water to grow, are often imported, and take more labor to process.
For the flax preparation, an egg replacer, I grind flax seeds and mix them into a cup of water and microwave it for 45 seconds, stir, and repeat twice until it’s boiling and bubbling and thickened to an egg-like consistency (it may thicken slightly while cooling). I do this in a larger cup than necessary, say a pint measuring cup, because it likes to boil over sometimes. You could also boil a kettle of water, and pour the water over the ground flax, stir, and let sit for a few minutes, but it doesn’t quite thicken the same.
For sweetener, I usually use fake maple syrup, which still disappoints the Vermonter in me. I would love to use real maple syrup instead of the mostly-corn-syrup stuff, but it is cost-prohibitive, especially in the South. Most folks outside of maple states grow up with fake maple as the norm, an exception made for corn syrup by those who usually shun it. It strikes me as less sustainable than the real stuff as well as less healthy. Personally I have a strong preference for the taste of real maple, having grown up with it dripping just a few feet from my house. It’s expensive in Vermont too, but there it is often an exception item in people’s budgets, the quality and locality is valued, sometimes neighbors trade maple for other items, a natural bartering gold. Honey works well for this recipe, but is also expensive – same with agave, which is imported. Our farm also trades with Sandhill Community for sorghum, which is like a dark honey. Use whichever your sweetening preference is.
Peanut Butter Bars
4 c oats
4 c peanut butter
1/3 c molasses
4 c maple syrup (or honey, sorghum, agave, etc)
2 TB vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp salt
1 TB baking powder
6 cups all-purpose flour
flaxseed preparation of 4 tsp ground flaxseed with 3/4 c hot water (see above for preparation instructions)
Sift together the all-purpose flour & baking powder. Mix all other ingredients separately, then combine with flour mix. Dough/batter will be sticky. Spread it out evenly about a half an inch thick, patting with your hands (wet your hands with water or oil first, or a dusting of flour, to combat the stickiness). Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly for 10 minutes, then cut into bars while still warm.