What Are Nanaimo Bars & Why Should You Make Them for Christmas (or anytime)?

Nanaimo Bars are the fiercely beloved Canadian treat you’ve probably never heard of if you live outside Canada. Nanaimo bars are named after the city of Nanaimo, located on the east coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Curiously, the earliest recipes and cookbooks documenting them seem to come from Vancouver, the lower mainland metropolis across the Strait of Georgia from Vancouver Island. 

But the City of Nanaimo righteously declares ownership of the treats, its website declaring “Of course, we know that Nanaimo Bars originated in Nanaimo, or they would be called New York Bars, or New Brunswick Bars”. Nanaimo grew up as a coal-mining town and there are stories of Nanaimo Bars tucked into the lunchboxes of the miners. When Canada Post included Nanaimo Bars in its series of dessert stamps, there was an outcry over the photo, Nanaimo Bar lovers proclaiming that the proportion of ingredients was obviously wrong. 

The fame of Nanaimo Bars has gone beyond the world of food. Kiyo Salon in Nanaimo offers a Nanaimo Bar pedicure which has apparently become a tourist attraction. TripAdvisor includes a satisfied customer’s review:

It was our first visit to Nanaimo, so we had to try the Nanaimo Bar Pedicure for my friend’s birthday. (This heavenly service begins with a milk bath; perfect for soothing the sole(s). This relaxing soak is followed by an almost-good-enough-to-eat chocolate sugar scrub, leaving you silky smooth and your daily calorie intake unaffected. The scrub is followed by a rich chocolate masque and a mouth-watering Vanilla Custard massage.)

Vancouver Island Brewing has created a Nanaimo Bar porter. Nanaimo Bars have even made it into the literary world with the publication of Sex, Life Itself and the Original Nanaimo Bar Recipe by Kim Blank.

There are a bewildering number of variations on the basic Nanaimo Bar recipe. The City of Nanaimo has kindly offered The Nanaimo Bar Trail brochure and map to guide the visitor to the varieties and their locations around the city. It comes with a warning though: “do not try to eat one from every source on the same day – may lead to overbliss.“ 

In 1986 the mayor of Nanaimo held a contest to discover the “ultimate Nanaimo Bar recipe”. Out of almost 100 recipes submitted, it was Joyce Hardcastle’s recipe that won the title. These days, Joyce, sometimes known as “the Nanaimo Bar lady” notes that there is something of a revival happening. Helping that along, she is now offering The Ultimate Nanaimo Bar Course online.

 The Ultimate Nanaimo Bar Course offers Joyce’s Ultimate recipe, but also includes substitutions for gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan Nanaimo Bars, a complete shopping and supply list and more Nanaimo Bar folklore. Her holiday recipe for mint Nanaimo Bars is included as well as an invite to the “Ultimate Nanaimo Bar Club” and a Certificate of Mastery. 

Gift certificates for the course are available for you and friends on your gift list. 

Joyce has had many years experience with making Nanaimo Bars and offers this warning: 

Side effects of taking this course include (but may not be limited to): loss of interest in “imposter” Nanaimo bars, feelings of joy and happiness, random acts of dancing, smiling for no apparent reason, a sudden urge to visit Nanaimo, improved connections with friends and family, being swarmed at potluck parties.

Imagine yourself, over the holidays, serving your friends delicious decadence, with accompanying folklore, and even gift certificates so favourite friends may be elevated to a lifetime of deliciousness.  Sign up for your course here.

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