THE GREAT INDOORS: Mud Hen Bars: Not beautiful but they are tasty

Ask the average American over the age of 40 what they first think of when someone mentions “Toledo, Ohio.” There’s a good chance he or she will say, “Toledo, isn’t that where Corporal Klinger was from?”

For those of us who grew up watching the television show “M*A*S*H,” the northwestern Ohio city will forever be linked to the soldier in dresses gunning for a Section Eight. Not only was Klinger from Toledo, the actor who played him, Jamie Farr, was too.

When Klinger wasn’t wearing a dress, he was mostly likely wearing a jersey or hat from his (and Farr’s) favorite team, the Toledo Mud Hens – now a triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.

You might ask why I’m bringing all of this up today.

For those of you following “The Great Indoors Trek to Times Square” – a year-long virtual walk from Fargo-Moorhead to New York City – the number of miles we should have now walked is the equivalent of Fargo to Toledo. Therefore, it’s time to highlight Toledo in food.

That’s when I stumbled across an unusual dessert called “Mud Hen Bars.” Mud Hen Bars are a sweet, Southern pecan cookie bar going back about 100 years. It’s believed their name comes from their not so attractive appearance. “Ugly as a Mud Hen” was a popular expression of the time, knocking the homely coot that looks like a weird duck and feeds in muddy marsh areas. It just so happens that the Toledo Mud Hens’ first stadium was built in an area where these birds fed. You learn something new everyday right?

The bars have undergone a bit of a modernization from their origin in the deep South. Now many recipes, including the one I share here from Christy Jordan’s Southern Plate, include marshmallows and chocolate chips and make the nuts optional. (I left out the nuts because I don’t like nuts in baked goods; I added a half cup more marshmallows and increased the amount of chocolate chips in Jordan’s recipe.) She also suggested baking 30 to 40 minutes; however my oven tends to run a little hot, so my meringue was well browned after about 20 minutes. Watch the video to see how they’re made.

While the bars are nothing to look at with their cracked and broken brownish meringue top, they are incredibly good! They taste a lot like s’mores if you substituted a chewy cookie for the crunchy graham cracker and added a brown sugar meringue on top of all of it.

Are you interested yet? They are really sweet, so cut the pieces small and enjoy a home run of a dessert.

Readers can reach Tracy Briggs at (701) 451-5632.

Original Mud Hens

Serves: 25

1/4 cup shortening

4 tablespoons butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 whole egg

2 eggs, separated

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar

Butter or grease a 9- by 13-inch pan. In a large bowl, cream the shortening, butter and sugar. Beat in the whole egg and the yolks of the other two eggs. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Combine the flour mixture with the creamed mixture, blending thoroughly.

Spread the dough into the baking pan, patting with your hands if necessary. Sprinkle chocolate chips, marshmallows and nuts over the dough. In a large bowl, beat the 2 egg whites until stiff. Fold in brown sugar until well combined. Spread brown sugar meringue over top of marshmallows and chocolate chips, spreading to touch the edges of the pan to prevent it from shrinking during baking.

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 to 40 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. (Watch closely as oven temperatures may vary.) Cool completely before cutting into bars.

Recipe altered from