Brownies and Bars/ Dessert/ Recipes

jumble brownies

You asked for it.

I was all excited to try out one of great grandma’s brownie recipes, despite the fact that the ingredients included “strained prunes” and “syrup”. What syrup? Need a little help here, grams. And the name “jumble brownies”? Where does “jumble” come in? The whole thing just seemed really odd from the start. Anyway, I made the brownies exactly like the perfect penmanship on the faded index card told me and while they didn’t turn out BAD, they were just different.

Very different. And kinda weird.

Okay, I don’t want to completely deter you from trying this depression era brownie recipe. But look at the color. To me, it looks more spice cake-ish. And to be fair, there’s really not much cocoa in the recipe. I’m thinking this was a very special old recipe made during times when ingredients like cocoa and sugar were limited.

But I love how she improvised! She knew she could add prunes and syrup for moisture and sweetness, and the flaked coconut and chopped walnuts made it special and worthy of company.

It’s funny because as I start to throw myself head first into this challenge, I feel like I actually am getting to know my great grandma. She passed away when I was three, but as I work through her recipe box I feel like I can get a very clear image of who this woman was and what she was about. I feel like I can almost see her pantry, most likely lined with floral wallpaper and canned goods, and see her sitting by the stove copying down recipes onto three by five cards after putting the kids to sleep at night. Ironically, I just received news that her son, my great uncle, passed away just last week and I can’t really describe the feeling I had when my mom called and told me. I feel almost like a lost a friend…or just finished the last page of a really great novel. I wonder how many times my great grandma baked these brownies when he was a little boy. Were these his favorite treat?

As for the taste, they don’t really taste like what we would expect “brownies” to taste like.

Instead, they have a cake-like texture and a taste I can’t really pinpoint—from the prunes? Like I said, they don’t taste bad, but don’t be expecting these.  Personally, I think they could use a whopping blanket of chocolate buttercream or ganache on top. I think my spoiled 21st century taste buds are used to something a little more sweet and rich. Also, if you do decide to take a stab at these, buy the prunes that look like this at the store–not the dry ones in the package.

Go ahead and try ’em! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. They certainly are fiber-licious.

Jumble Brownies

Print this recipe!


1 1/4 cup flour

1 1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup cocoa

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2/3 cup shortening

2 eggs

1 tbsp maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla

5 oz strained prunes, pureed in the blender until smooth

1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)

1/2 cup flaked sweetened coconut


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Add the shortening, eggs, syrup, vanilla and prunes and beat until smooth and combined. Fold in coconut and nuts.

Smooth batter into a greased 112 x 9 inch pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until edges pull away from sides.

Let cool completely before slicing into bars.


45 minutes

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  • Sweet and Savvy
    November 14, 2011 at 3:28 am

    Those look like some pretty delicious Brownies for having prune puree!

  • Khushboo
    November 14, 2011 at 3:40 am

    After loving Larabars that are made from dates, I am not surprised these brownies with prunes taste yum!

  • Emmy (Wine and Butter)
    November 14, 2011 at 3:46 am

    I LOVE prunes and I sometimes get a post-sugar rush headache from teh regular ones – so I think I would really love to try these! This challenge is fantastic – I love it when you can combine cooking with some history learning!!

  • meg
    November 14, 2011 at 3:46 am

    I’m fairly confident your great grandmother meant corn syrup, not maple- like Karo? It has been a popular sweetener for decades. This is just a guess, but it would make sense for the time frame.

    This is a very sweet project you are undertaking, and I have enjoyed reading about it.

    • Deanna B.
      November 14, 2011 at 9:01 am

      I figured it was the syrup from the prunes, not maple syrup.

    • Susie
      November 14, 2011 at 9:02 am

      Meg – I was going to say the same thing, and I think Karo would be much sweeter than the maple syrup, which should satisfy anyone’s taste buds, 21st century or no! 🙂

      • Fritha
        November 14, 2011 at 10:24 am

        My first thought was the same as Deanna B.’s–imagine there must be (must have been?) some kind of canned or jarred prunes in syrup and that’s what they’re “strained” out of.

    • Lauren
      November 15, 2011 at 8:56 am

      I agree…syrup definitely means corn syrup to me. A lot of my family’s old recipes call for it.

  • Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga
    November 14, 2011 at 3:48 am

    Brownies have gone from having prunes in them back them to people putting black beans in them today. I prefer the really rich chocolate with buttercream frosting variety 🙂

    But you did what you could with your gram’s brownies…prunes and all. And they look great!

  • Katrina
    November 14, 2011 at 3:52 am

    This sounds really cool! I love thinking about how times were back then. Really neat!

  • chelsey @ clean eating chelsey
    November 14, 2011 at 3:59 am

    That’s so interesting – I’m sure these were made during the depression era when there was not a lot of sugar/cocoa to go around, just like you said!

  • Erika - The Teenage Taste
    November 14, 2011 at 4:00 am

    These brownies definitely look different. I’m not sure how the chocolate and prune combo worked, but maybe it would be better as a spice cake?
    Anyway, I think it’s really cool that you are sifting through your old family recipes. Good luck! 😀

  • Kathryn
    November 14, 2011 at 4:10 am

    I love that you tried making these even if they’re a bit weird, it’s so fascinating!

  • Molly @ RDexposed
    November 14, 2011 at 4:19 am

    Can I steal fiberlicious? Me to patient: “I would encourage you to eat more fiberlicious foods.”

  • Joelle (On A Pink Typewriter)
    November 14, 2011 at 4:41 am

    Hahah oh boy… I’m not sure how I feel about these. My dad might love them because he liked prunes, but I’m not sure I could get myself to actually make them for him. Cute name though. 😉

  • Amanda
    November 14, 2011 at 4:54 am

    These sound…interesting. haha I actually like prunes, so I think as you mentioned, if you don’t make these expecting super rich, chocolatey brownies, these could actually be quite delicious.

    I love your story telling in this post. It’s really neat to go back in time and see what people were eating, and how that tied into what was happening in history.

  • Heather (Heather's Dish)
    November 14, 2011 at 4:56 am

    i’m a little intrigued…i love prunes but don’t know if brownies are the place for them? i am interested to try the recipe though!

  • Linda
    November 14, 2011 at 5:00 am

    I made a tray of brownies – and ate them in one night. I have a problem with eating a lot after 9:30 pm at night (and by “a lot” , I mean a lot). I cannot seem to have any self-control and I keep going and going.
    Some people tell me not to bake or buy it. But I followed that philosophy in the past and ended up feeling deprived.
    Maybe in a couple of years, this insanely nightly snacking will end. Right now, its too exhausting to even try to resist it.

    Prunes surprise me. Dates I’ve heard of as a good brownie ingredient. As long as there is flour, sugar, butter, eggs and chocolate, I’m in.

    • Ashley Lewis
      November 14, 2011 at 7:30 am

      I know that the british Nigella Lawson cookbook I have calls for golden syrup often in its dessert recipes. I am not sure but I’m pretty sure its corn syrup (as a couple other people have said). I think that would totally change the taste because corn syrup is more mild whereas maple syrup would make it more spice cake like. 🙂

      • Laura
        November 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

        Golden syrup isn’t the same as corn syrup – it’s a bit more like treacle, although not the same as that either! I would probably use treacle for these, though, if I was in America.

  • Melomeals: Vegan for $3.33 a Day
    November 14, 2011 at 5:03 am

    I just love this… thanks for allowing us to follow along.. it is really interesting to read her recipes.

  • Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat
    November 14, 2011 at 5:14 am

    I love this “project” you’re working on Jenna! It’s so fun to see how recipes that we eat today have changed over the years. Can’t wait for more!

  • Jen
    November 14, 2011 at 5:14 am

    I think the syrup might have been “Corn Syrup” probably? They look good anyways!

    • Lizzie
      November 14, 2011 at 6:16 am

      I have seen frightening looking jars of prunes in syrup. Typically, when fruit is in syrup, it’s usually corn syrup, right? So I think Jen is right — probably corn syrup.

  • Ann
    November 14, 2011 at 5:17 am

    I am tempted to make these for the sole reason that you dubbed them fiberlicious. Love that you’re working your way through your grandmother’s old recipes, I have a couple from mine that include such wonders as Sunshine Salad, which features canned fruit cocktail suspended in lemon jello.

  • sreebindu
    November 14, 2011 at 5:21 am

    it’s Children’s day in India and what better way to please ourselves with a bite of this indulgence 🙂 Brownie lover over here!

  • Lauren @ What Lauren Likes
    November 14, 2011 at 5:37 am

    How cool! They look fab 🙂

  • Gina @ Running to the Kitchen
    November 14, 2011 at 5:53 am

    These definitely look interesting. I think it’s great motivation to play around with prunes in baked goods. There’s gotta be a better way to eat them then just plain!

  • Jen
    November 14, 2011 at 5:55 am

    Did your great grandmother have a blender to puree the prunes??

  • kathleen @ the daily crumb
    November 14, 2011 at 6:00 am

    i love that you still tried and posted the recipe! my grandma swore by prunes… they were basically a food group to her, so this recipe does not surprise me at all 🙂

  • HRCK
    November 14, 2011 at 6:01 am

    I think my taste buds are too influenced by today’s food to appreciate some of this kind of stuff too! Especially with icing. I prefer the suuuuuper-sweet Funfetti kind of all others!

  • Cait's Plate
    November 14, 2011 at 6:18 am

    Is it weird that this sounds completely delicious to me? I’m a sucker for prunes (I know, I’m like a 90 year old woman trapped in a 26 year old body) and walnuts and coconut!! I definitely want to try this out!

    • Sonia (the Mexigarian)
      November 14, 2011 at 9:00 am

      I completely agree with this statement right here (tho I’m 28, lol) and LOVE Prunes. Hubby gave me a look when I bought a Costco bag size of them, lol.

      Looking forward to making these. I actually have all the ingredients!

  • Kelly
    November 14, 2011 at 6:24 am

    I just think it is amazing at how your passion for baking comes through in this post.

  • Teri
    November 14, 2011 at 6:38 am

    I was also going to suggest that chances are the recipe was talking about corn syrup.

  • sally kate
    November 14, 2011 at 6:49 am

    i’m not sure how i feel about prunes in brownies, but i’ve made granola bars with prunes in them before!!

  • kristinp
    November 14, 2011 at 6:53 am

    My grammie makes these!! We call it choco-cake and she adds chocolate chips to the recipe too, but otherwise, this is my family’s traditional holiday and special treat cake. I really can’t imagine the cake without chocolate chips though, they sort of make the cake.

    YAY choco-cake!

  • Lainie
    November 14, 2011 at 6:58 am

    What a cool project, Jenna! I’m enjoying your blog more than ever lately.

  • Krystina (Organically Me)
    November 14, 2011 at 7:01 am

    This reminds me of a date nut cake/bread. My grandmother always made them, and I liked them quite a bit, so I imagine this to be similar. Though the combination of cocoa powder + prunes seems a little strange.

  • Liz
    November 14, 2011 at 7:05 am

    Funny – I’ve had these! No, they’re not really like chocolate brownies. I think the flavor really is an old-fashioned kind of flavor (who, these days, puts prunes in baked goods?)

    I also agree that the syrup was probably corn syrup. I think if it were maple syrup, that would have been specified, while corn syrup used to be so commonly-used that “syrup” was all that was needed in the recipe. Maple syrup is also relatively expensive (even in maple syrup country where I live) and hard to come by for people in certain regions, so I doubt that would have been the chosen syrup. Your flavor would be a bit different and a bit more sweet with the use of corn syrup. (It could also have meant simple syrup, or even any kind of pancake syrup – whatever was on hand.)

  • amy walters, aDESIGNdock
    November 14, 2011 at 7:11 am

    I adore this quirky recipe….”spice cake-ish” colour and all! Thanks Jenna….I’m lovin’ your Great Grandma’s vintage cooking style.

  • Liz @ Southern Charm
    November 14, 2011 at 7:35 am

    These ingredients are so interesting! I want to try this out, just for that reason … and I love brownies 🙂

  • Gillian G. @ When Bread Is Broken
    November 14, 2011 at 7:35 am

    very interesting, fun to read! thanks for sharing!! 🙂

  • Bev Weidner
    November 14, 2011 at 7:41 am

    I could jumble my face all over those brownies. Wow.

    • jenna
      November 14, 2011 at 7:48 am

      clearly that’s why they were called “jumble brownies”. For that exact reason.

    • Linda
      March 27, 2012 at 8:11 pm

      That’s a smart asnwer to a tricky question

  • Lauren from Lauren's Latest
    November 14, 2011 at 7:49 am

    I want to try these out!

  • Gina
    November 14, 2011 at 7:54 am

    Actually, I think it is more likely that the recipe calls for stewed prunes in syrup, and the syrup referred to is prune syrup. These prunes would have been sweeter and moister than the kind in the bags/box- like this recipe:

  • Kelly
    November 14, 2011 at 8:03 am

    Actually, the prunes in the recipe don’t sound weird to me. I have a few cooking light recipes where they use it as a partial fat substitute (much like apple sauce) and it works pretty well. Granted, you can’t reduce ALL the fat, but it adds a lot of moisture and if you start with a lot of cocoa/chocolate to begin with, the taste fades into the background.

  • Kristen @ Chocolate Covered Kristen
    November 14, 2011 at 8:04 am

    This is such a great challenge. Before the family sold my grandparent’s house I swiped a cookbook from 1960 that my Grammie had gotten from their church in Vermont. I love reading all of the crazy ingredients and recipes for molded gelatin salads. You are inspiring me to tackles some of them.

  • Hilliary @ Happily Ever Healthy
    November 14, 2011 at 8:20 am

    Interesting recipe!

  • Kelly @ Laughter, Strength, and Food
    November 14, 2011 at 8:42 am

    My grandma likes to use prunes in recipes too! It must be a ‘grandma’ thing!

  • RunEatRepeat
    November 14, 2011 at 9:28 am

    I thought this was “jungle” brownies and expected tiger meat to be included….

  • sarah k @ the pajama chef
    November 14, 2011 at 9:53 am

    i have a lot of my grandma’s old cookbooks (both sides actually) and am now inspired to actually use them!

  • Meghan @ StruggleMuffins
    November 14, 2011 at 10:43 am

    It’s all in how you approach the brownies. If you go at them looking for a decadent fudgetastic experience, you might be underwhelmed. But if you approach it as if you’re merely looking to reap the nutritional benefits that prunes yield, it’s a triumph and a half because you’ll get the prunes AND chocolate. Strategery. Always.

  • mich
    November 14, 2011 at 11:14 am

    I’m going to guess your great grandmother didn’t have a blender during the depression…. so how did she puree the prunes?

    • jenna
      November 14, 2011 at 11:18 am

      No clue! Maybe she just minced and smashed them? They were pretty soft to start!

      • Debbie~
        November 14, 2011 at 11:23 am

        They did have blenders in the 1930’s 🙂

  • Moni'sMeals
    November 14, 2011 at 11:44 am

    so unique, never heard or thought of prunes for a brownie. Well done!

  • Kristin
    November 14, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Hey Jenna! I just wanted to write to thank you for all of your books suggestions! I read a few books a week and am always hunting for good books. I can honestly say that you have NEVER reccomended a book that I did not love! You have such good taste! Please keep posting book reviews on your blog!

    • jenna
      November 14, 2011 at 12:31 pm

      yay! so glad 🙂

      • katryn@rampantcuisine
        November 16, 2011 at 5:10 pm

        I second this! There’s no one else I trust more to give me a great book suggestion.
        I read more because of you!

        • jenna
          November 16, 2011 at 6:05 pm

          that is such a huge compliment! Thank you!

  • Heidi - Apples Under My Bed
    November 14, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    I love this journey, it must be teaching you a lot about baking in the past and being restricted by things like the depression. It’s great to see the types of brownies they made – I adore history and food history. Truly fascinating. Thanks! 🙂
    Heidi xo

  • Elise
    November 14, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    I think this journey to make all your great-grandma’s recipes is so exciting! Similarly, my mom collects old community cookbooks and I think it’s so sociologically interesting to read them and get a better idea of what life was like then/there!

    To echo some other commenters, I too think your great-grandmother probably didn’t mean maple syrup (which isn’t to say it didn’t make a perfectly acceptable modern-day substitute). Although, I would imagine she meant something more like golden syrup (it’s actually a pretty common ingredient in some old recipes of my Grandmother, who grew up in the Depression era), and probably not corn syrup.

  • Mary @ Fervent Foodie
    November 14, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    Awwww this story about your grandma, her recipes, and her son literally just gave me goosebumps as I read it!!

  • katie @KatieDid
    November 14, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Well I’ve heard of adding dates to baked goods for sweetness so I bet this accomplishes a similar task. I can imagine how these taste, almost more like a raisin nut bread in my mind. But I bet they made perfect after school snacks back then!

  • Kiran @
    November 14, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    I love dried fruits in baking goods – keeps it sweet and moist 🙂

  • flaky crescent rolls for thanksgiving — Eat, Live, Run
    November 15, 2011 at 6:28 am

    […] real surprise, the recipe came from Great Grandma. She totally redeemed herself after the prune episode yesterday, if I do say so myself. These rolls are like croissants but WAY less time consuming. And […]