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The Trumans on the Porch of Their Independence, Missouri Home. National Archives.
February 2, 2021

Chocolate for Valentine’s Day: Bess Truman’s Brownies

Harry Truman fell in love with Bess Wallace when he was six years old and she was five. In high school, he excitedly recalled in his journal that he was “lucky enough to carry her books home.” Harry never loved another girl or woman, and didn’t even date anyone but Bess. Bess was more reserved about her feelings for Harry – initially, she didn’t appear to have any. Finally, in 1910, nine years after Harry and Bess graduated high school, Harry and Bess’s eight-year courtship began. Harry was at his cousins’ house across the road from where Bess lived. Bess’s mother, Madge, had given the Nolands a cake, and the plate needed to be returned. Harry’s grandmother slyly suggested that Harry be the one to return it. The rest, as they say, is history, with Bess finally agreeing to marry Harry (he had to ask twice) in 1918 just before he shipped off to France to fight in World War I. 

Although chocolates are customary for Valentine’s day, we decided to do some hands-on research and bake Bess’s famous brownies from a manuscript of her recipe which has been digitized for the public. Bess Truman, the 33rd First Lady of the United States, was known to be a woman of few words.  It’s no surprise, then, that her brownie recipe can be described as having a striking economy of words. Bess Truman shared many of her recipes for charity cookbooks or for interest pieces in newspapers. 

For our international readers, most American baking chocolate used to be packaged in one-ounce squares (some brands still maintain this practice). So four squares would be four ounces, or 113.5 grams, roughly. Nuts? Whatever you have on hand, and as for in or on, Bess does not specify, so you are left to do as you please. 

BROWNIES

2 cups sugar

1 cup butter

1 ½ cup flour

½ teaspoon salt

4 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

4 squares chocolate (melted)

1 cup chopped nuts

 

Cook at 350° for about forty minutes.

 

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