Holiday Citrus-Mesquite Bars

OK, anyone can put sugar, butter and flour together, but if you give yourself carte blanche to invent new local variations on old-time favorites you can come up with some winners, especially for special winter occasions. Tia Marta here to share what I did with traditional lemon bars for a totally Southwest flair:

Try this delicious locally-inspired RECIPE for HOLIDAY CITRUS BARS:

You will need a 9×13″ baking dish and mixing bowls

Ingredients for crust:

1 and 1/2 cups flour mix (I used 1 cup organic fine whole wheat and 1/2 cup white Sonora wheat flour*)

1/2 cup mesquite meal (in place of crushed graham crackers used in other recipes)

3/4 cup butter, softened room temperature

1/2 cup powdered sugar

Ingredients for top layer:

2 cups regular sugar

1/2 cup lemon juice (lime juice or tangerine juice also are delish)

1-2 Tbsp lemon-zest (I used minced Meyer lemon rind; lime- or tangerine-zest would be great)

4 lg. eggs

optional wild desert fruits (I used saguaro fruit; prickly pear or hackberries would work great)

!/4 cup flour (added separately for this top-layer mixture)

*white Sonora wheat flour is available from Barrio Bread milled with heirloom grain grown by BKW Farms in Marana

Directions follow with pictures:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

To begin crust, sift flour mixture, mesquite meal, and and powdered sugar together.

(Since the crust is not leavened, you can make it gluten-free by using tapioca flour as your binder and amaranth flour with the mesquite flour.)

Mix crust ingredients–flours, confectioners’ sugar, and softened butter– to make a “dough”.

Press “dough” into the bottom of the 9×13″ baking pan, relatively evenly (maybe 3/4-1/2″ thick. Be sure to crimp down the edges with a clean knife so the thickness of dough is not tapered thin.

Bake crust at 350F until light brown, about 20-25 minutes. Keep oven on….

Grate 1-2 tablespoons lemon, lime or tangerine zest.

We have Meyer lemons which have such a mild sweet rind that I experimented by mincing, instead of zesting them. I had juiced the fruits previously, and had frozen the rinds for zesting and for making limoncello (that’s another fantastic blog by SavorSisterCarolyn!) . For the top-layer mixture I used 3 tablespoons of minced Meyer lemon rind.

While crust is baking, beat together the top-layer ingredients: sugar, citrus juice, minced or zested rind, 4 eggs, and 1/4 cup flour as thickener. (If you are using a pyrex bake pan, make sure this mixture is warm enough so as not to shock the hot pyrex when poured on crust.)

When crust is light brown and done, bring out of the oven. Pour top-layer mixture onto the crust.

To provide festive decoration and texture, I garnished the top with saguaro fruit collected last June, frozen and now thawed.

Return the now double-layered pan back into oven. Continue baking for another 20-25 or until top layer “sets” firmly.

When done, place on raised rack to cool evenly. Dust the top with powdered sugar.

When cool, separate crust from edge with sharp knife to make removal easier. Slice into small squares. These bars are so deliciously RICH –small is better!

Good and gooey –with that wonderful mesquite flavor, the crunch of saguaro seed,

…and the internalized hope that–with this–we can let the desert plants know how important they are to us!

Enjoy a cold-weather tea-time, a citrus harvest with purpose, or a Thanksgiving dessert made with your own variation on this Citrus Bar treat!

As winter festivities draw near, for more great ideas….check out our earlier blog post Southwest Style Holiday Buffets.

A joyous holiday to all from Tia Marta!

[Mesquite flour or saguaro fruit are special tastes of what makes Tucson an International City of Gastronomy! But these desert foods are not available just anywhere. Plan ahead–the way traditional Tohono O’odham harvesters have always known to do– future culinary opportunities will open to you if ye desert goodies while ye may, that is, when they are in season. Here’s a word of encouragemen from Tia Marta: Put it on your 2023 calendar now. Set aside time in mid-late June, tho’ it is super hot, to collect saguaro fruit, peel and freeze it in sealed container. Also mid-late June before the rains, gather brittle dry mesquite pods for community milling, and freeze the meal in sealed containers. In mid-late August, gather whole prickly pear tunas to freeze in paper and plastic, for juicing later. YOU WILL BE SO GLAD LATER THAT YOU SET ASIDE THESE DESERT FRUITS. Use the SEARCH box on this blog for instructions about harvesting a cornacopia of desert delicacies and staples.]

3 thoughts on “Holiday Citrus-Mesquite Bars

  1. Rangpur lime! Although I never learned how to bake or cook, and am none too proficient with flavor, I suspect that Rangpur lime would work splendidly for this. It is acidic like lemon, but with flavor like that of a Mandarin orange. ‘Meyer’ lemon works so well because it has half flavor of orange mixed with a bit more than half acidity of lemon.


    • Rangpur lime sounds lovely–I had never heard of it and now i must find out more….
      Yes Meyer lemon has tangerine in its hybridized ancestry hence its gentleness.
      I was considering trying SweetLime in my Citrus Bars as it grows in plenty at Mission Garden Tucson–(Do you know SweetLime?)
      Decided SweetLime’s complicated aromas might compete with the mesquite crust in the Citrus Bars. Will save it and Rangpur for other ideas. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

      • The parentage of ‘Meyer’ lemon is still questionable. Nowadays, it is considered to be a hybrid of a citron and a tangelo; and tangelo is a hybrid of a Mandarin orange and a pomelo. When I grew it in the 1990s, it was still considered to be a hybrid of a lemon and a sweet orange. I am not convinced of the more contemporary explanation. Furthermore, ‘Rangpur’ lime is now considered to be a hybrid of a Mandarin orange and a citron (although it is supposedly true to type from seed). When I grew it, it was still considered to be a simple sour Mandarin orange, and I suspect that it really is. It is one of the prettier citrus trees, with those bright reddish orange fruits that look like Mandarin oranges on the exterior of its canopy. It has small leaves, and is rather thorny. The fruit is not quite as perishable as Mandarin oranges, which oxidize quickly within their loose skins. ‘Rangpur’ lime skin is more firmly attached to the fruit. Even though I never learned how to cook, so have no idea of what to do with all the fruit it generates, it is still one of my favorite citrus cultivars. (Unfortunately, some of my favorites are the less practical sorts.) We did not grow sweet lime during the 1990s, but we should have. They are quite popular among those from Central and northern South America. The trees are quite thorny, and the green fruit is not much to look at, but the foliage is so lush. Do you find that their fruit is difficult to peel? I have encountered only two cultivars, and could not peel them fast enough. I think that grapefruits are easier to peel.


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