It’s cherry season! I am over the moon to see cherries all over the markets here in New York, and am eagerly trying to bake as much with them before they start to disappear in a few months! These bars are simple and easily impress. The brown butter filling is totally decadent but also the perfect canvas to highlight this season’s stone fruits!
The name Lilly Martin Spencer might not ring a bell to many these days, but in the mid-nineteenth century she was one of the most popular and widely reproduced female genre painters in America. Usually categorized as an American artist, Spencer was actually born in England in 1822 but moved to Ohio in her early teens, where she lived until she made her way to bustling New York City around mid-century. Her happy, idealized scenes of domestic life became very popular, and improvements in printing technology allowed her work to be mass-produced in the growing number of women’s magazines being published around this time.
As America approaches a historic (and batshit crazy) election season with our first female Democratic candidate, it’s interesting to touch on Spencer’s experiences in the male-dominated art world. Spencer was actually an exception to the norm in that she was the breadwinner for her family, and painted to support her husband and thirteen (!!!) kids. Apparently her parents were pretty forward-thinking for the time, and this foundation helped Spencer find a significant place in the art historical landscape.
Spencer’s 1856 work, Kiss Me and You’ll Kiss the ‘Lasses is the perfect example of her talent for depicting romanticized interior scenes, usually only populated by women and children. A young woman is shown preserving heaps of fruit; she is surrounded by apples, cherries, pineapples, raspberries and grapes, suggesting that it is summer and all fruit is at its peak. Wearing a long green gown and rosy apron (the same complimentary color scheme as this leading lady…coincidence?), she stands at the table and looks back at the viewer with a playful smile. Her mood is lighthearted and flirtatious, and in her left hand she holds out a spoonful of molasses, which would have been used to further sweeten the jam. The title refers to this molasses, and her teasing glance warns the subject of her stare (who stands beyond us), that if he tries to kiss her, he’ll get a spoonful of molasses to the face!
These bars are out of this world and perfect for sharing – bring them to work tomorrow or pack along for the perfect weekend picnic. Or you can snack on them one by one like I do, until you are left with an embarrassingly small amount and you have to pretend that “you only made a half batch to recipe test.” (Not that I am speaking from experience or anything….)
Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Featured art: Lilly Martin Spencer, Kiss Me and You’ll Kiss the ‘Lasses, 1856, oil on canvas