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A few years back, ( I don’t remember exactly how many, although a Beatles reunion would still have been do-able) I cooked at a beautiful ranch/retreat center in the western hills of the Sonoma Valley called The Westerbeke Ranch. It was a glowing gem of a place—meandering hills, pungent eucalyptus, wildflowers splashed all over like sprinkles on a cupcake—with a long, red tiled, adobe-walled kitchen perched next to a swimming pool. 

A pool that was fed by an effervescent mineral spring…yeah, the place was just that awesome!

Then (and apparently still), it was well-known for the meals that were prepared in that adobe kitchen, with desserts being a specialty.  There was a young woman cooking there named Mary, whose place I would be taking after she finished training me.  One of her most requested desserts and one of the first things I made there, were lemon squares.  I still follow my original hand written recipe bearing her name, although now there is another memory attached to that little 3 x 5 card.


I was making these one day some years later, when my daughter—whose name happens to be Mary—saw the recipe card on the counter and spotted her name written on it.  She was about two years old at the time, so her name was all she could recognize on it.  She asked me what it said, and I replied simply, “Mary’s Lemon Squares”.

She didn’t ask why they were called that, or if she was the Mary in on the card, and I wasn’t given the chance to tell her.  She was two (very verbally so), and so of course there could be no other Mary! 

Those Lemon Squares have been hers for twenty five years now (I think she’s even baked them once or twice), and I pity the hapless fool who tries to tell her otherwise.  She requests them for every occasion imaginable—her birthday, a job promotion, a bad day at work, the first day of spring, someone else’s birthday (anyone’s…it doesn’t matter who’s), for dinner—however she can get them.

 I’m making them for her today just to surprise her.

And, so she’ll stop texting me every day asking for them.


As to why they are called Lemon Squares I don’t really know, because certainly lemon is the least plentiful ingredient in them.  None the less, these are the bar by which I (and my daughter) measure all others bearing the name.  They are probably also the bar that predisposed my daughter to a life of coconut macaroons and Mounds Bars, but certainly there are worse things…

I hope your friends and family loves these the way that we have!  (And Mary from the Westerbeke Ranch of the ‘70’s—if you’re reading this—thank you!!!)

Bake with joy!  When you make them,  please let me know how they turn out for you, as I’ve been making them for so long I may have skipped something in the directions.

Mary’s Lemon Squares

A)    Crust
1 ½ c flour
½ c (1 stick) cold butter
½ t salt

B)    Filling
2 c packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 t vanilla
1 ½ t baking powder
2 c shredded coconut

C)     Icing
1 ½ c powdered sugar
1 T lemon zest
Fresh lemon juice


Preheat oven to 375 degrees

A)    Cut butter into flour and salt with a pastry blender, 2 knives or quickly with your fingers, until just blended. (You could use a food processor here too, but that seems like over-kill and more dirty dishes for such a simple step.)  Press mixture firmly into a 9x 13 glass baking pan to about 1/8” thickness.  Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes.


B)    In a separate bowl, thoroughly beat together eggs, brown sugar, vanilla baking powder and coconut.  (It helps to make sure the baking powder is thoroughly distributed before you mix the coconut in.)  Pour over hot crust and return to the oven (still at 375) for 25 minutes.  Remove from oven when filling is set, and cool slightly.


C)     In a small bowl, mix together powdered sugar, lemon zest, and enough fresh lemon juice to form a thick glaze.  Spread over semi-hot baked mixture; cool completely before cutting into squares.  (Let me know if you actually do the ‘cool completely before cutting’ part…no one in my family is that disciplined.)