Grandma Ida Belle’s Oatmeal Bars

Oatmeal Bars is a favorite recipe from my grandmother, Ida Belle Blough Snavely. As children, we’d visit every summer on her Iowa farm. Grandma Ida loved to have her grandchildren help make this recipe. And the soft, chewy oatmeal-texture bars kind of grow on you.  We had a cousin reunion recently, I thought it would be a good time to share the recipe.

Oatmeal Bars and Frozen Spiced Plum Yogurt - 1 - IMG_6296_1


The oatmeal bars really shine when served with fruit or ice cream. Here they are served with spicy plum  frozen yogurt. The two make a great pairing for a hot summer day.

Kids can cook

We were quite young when we’d help grandma in her kitchen making this recipe. Probably pre-teens. Grandma was extremely thrifty and  she was very proud that you could entirely mix up the batch of cookie/bars using only one bowl. As there was no dishwasher on the Iowa farm, using less cooking equipment was a plus. It is a good recipe for kids to cook for that fact. No electric equipment; just add ingredients and stir.

Grandma did not have a microwave. She melted the margarine or butter in a large aluminum bowl over low heat on the stove. I don’t recommend this. Rather, use a large microwave-proof bowl to melt the margarine or butter.

Versatile Oatmeal Bar Recipe

This recipe can have as many additions as you can imagine. Nuts, raisins, chocolate chips taste good in the bars. The recipe includes a teaspoon of cinnamon which definitely adds to the flavor but doesn’t overpower it.

For the oatmeal, I use quick cooking oatmeal. Old fashioned oatmeal leaves a chewy taste and is drier; but you might like that taste. Either margarine or butter, or a combination, can be used. The original recipe uses lard–and they probably had a steady supply of that on the farm as they raised their own hogs. We’ve come a long way.

Another variation is to make drop cookies by increasing the flour to two cups. Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

For the sugar, I found two variations in the amounts. The 3/4 cup each of brown sugar and white sugar leads to a sweet bar. My daughter and I actually prefer the less sweet version with 1/2 cup each of brown sugar and white sugar.

For baking, don’t over bake the bars; the recipe uses alot of oatmeal. I found that baking at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes gave a slightly brown top and the bars were still soft.

Grandma Ida Belle

My grandmother was born on May 26, 1889. It seems like a time warp–years ago. Her grandfather was one of the original settlers from Pennsylvania; traveling to Iowa to purchase farm land for a dollar an acre by carrying gold coins on a money belt. Those early settlers were very thrifty, hard working and self-sufficient. Values that are timeless.

As the years went by, I discovered that Grandma Ida shared the recipe with all her grandchildren. We are scattered all over the country; but it was interesting to discover when we got together that we all had the same recipe. And such are family traditions.

Grandma Ida Belle's Oatmeal Bars

  • Servings: 32 bars
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 cup shortening,  (either margarine, butter or a combination, the original recipe called for lard)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar (less sweet version reduce to 1/2 cup)
  • 3/4 cup white sugar (less sweet version reduce to 1/2 cup)
  • 2 extra large eggs (or 3 large eggs)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 1 scant tsp baking soda, dissolved in the milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 cups quick cooking oatmeal
  • optional, 1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • optional, 1 cup raisins

Instructions and Steps

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees, lightly oil a 10″ x 15″ baking sheet,
  2. In large microwave proof bowl, melt the margarine and/or butter; (heat on high for about 30 seconds to a minute, cover the bowl loosely with wax paper to prevent splattering),
  3. Cool slightly, mix in the next four ingredients (brown sugar, white sugar, eggs and salt),
  4. Add the soda mixed in the milk and vanilla,
  5. Add the flour, oatmeal, cinnamon and optional chocolate chips and raisins,
  6. Spread onto the baking sheet,
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes until just beginning to brown.
  8. Remove and cut into 32 squares (8 cuts x 4 cuts).

Variation: Increase flour to 2 cups. Drop by teaspoons on to a cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees till light brown.

3 thoughts on “Grandma Ida Belle’s Oatmeal Bars

  1. As one of the cousins who remembers making cookies with Grandma Ida, and who has made the recipe many, many times, I really enjoyed remembering how much we loved the cookies. The spicy plum yogurt sounds perfect to go with!

  2. Maylee, it is so fun to read your post on Ida since I also share these cookie making and eating memories. One memory that sticks with me relating to your mention of using the fewest possible utensils: to measure the “shortening” as she called it (probably lard), Grandma Ida would push her large spoon into the lard in the can, twirl it around in a circular motion, and scoop it out – bringing up a nearly perfect cup without using a measuring cup. I also remember the large round flat cans (remind me of old 16mm film cans but thicker) she stored the cookies in between layers of waxed paper. She had her way of doing everything!!

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