The Nanaimo bar
is a dessert
origin popular across North America. A type of chocolate
no-bake square, it receives its name from the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia
. It consists of a wafer crumb-based layer, topped by a layer of light custard
or vanilla butter icing, which is covered in chocolate made from melted chocolate squares. Many varieties are possible by using different types of crumb, flavours of custard or icing (e.g. mint, peanut butter), and types of chocolate. Two popular variations on the traditional Nanaimo bar involve mint flavoured custard or mocha flavoured custard.
While the origins of the Nanaimo bar are unknown, local legend claims that the bar originated in Nanaimo in the 1950s. Although unsubstantiated, the traditional story in Nanaimo is that a local housewife submitted the recipe to a magazine
or newspaper under the name "Nanaimo Bars" for a recipe contest. Her recipe won, giving it substantial publicity. It made its way throughout the province's communities by way of household cookery recipes shared by housewives in the 1950s, particularly via company towns
. The earliest confirmed printed copy of the recipe "Nanaimo Bars" appears in a publication entitled His/Hers Favorite Recipes, Compiled by the Women's Association of the Brechin United Church
(1957), with the recipe submitted by Joy Wilgress (p.52). (The Brechin United Church is in the north side of 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).
Other unconfirmed references date the bars back to the 1930s, when it was said to be known locally as "chocolate fridge cake". Some New Yorkers claim that it originated in New York, and refer to them as "New York Slices". One modern reference even refers to the bars existing in nineteenth century Nanaimo.
In Nanaimo's culture
The popularity of the bar in Nanaimo lead to local residents mobilising to have it elected "Canada's Favourite Confection" in a National Post reader survey. 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.
Other names and similar desserts
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 but not in other language or dialect versions. The term is also common in the American half of the Pacific Northwest, next-door to BC, 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 Starbucks coffee chain.