I met two of my best friends when we were all interns at The Pittsburgh Press — a newspaper that, sadly, is no longer in business.
Georgea, the daughter of a Greek immigrant father, grew up in Michigan, where her dad and uncle still operate a restaurant.
Her dad orders feta cheese in 50-pound buckets, and she always has a ready supply — along with Greek olives — in her refrigerator.
Given my Lebanese background, she and I found much common ground in the food and family traditions of our Mediterranean cultures. We became friends almost immediately.
Rounding out our trio is Mary Ann, who grew up on a hog farm in northern Iowa.
Mary Ann was raised on classic Midwestern fare — that is, meat and potatoes.
Georgea and I introduced her to foods such as hummus and stuffed grape leaves. Thanks to an enthusiastic palate and much European travel, Mary Ann is quite the gourmet.
She might try to deny the limited-food repertoire of her early years, but I could always remind her that she once regaled us with the tale of an exotic aunt who seasoned her pork roast with “ fresh garlic cloves.”
After years of hearing stories about the farm, Georgea and I made our first visit in 1995.
Certain that we wouldn’t find it in Iowa, we carried on the plane a cooler of “our food” (hummus, olives, feta cheese, pita bread and more) for Mary Ann — and feasted when we arrived in Des Moines. (Oh, how I miss the days of pre-2001 air travel.)
The next day, we drove two hours north to the farm, chatting along the way about farm life and what to expect.
We predicted that her mother would make a huge, delicious Sunday dinner — the kind that farm families eat in the movies — complete with biscuits and pie.
Mary Ann chided us for stereotyping her family.
Farm life wasn’t like that, she insisted. Maybe, she said, we would eat out.
Our visit to the farm was delightful: We walked the fields, learned a lot about soybeans and posed for pictures with the pigs at the hog barn.
When we returned to the house, Mary Ann’s mother, Helen, welcomed us to a dinner table replete with stuffed peppers, potatoes, sweet corn, tomatoes, zucchini and a warm peach pie with vanilla ice cream.
The meal was just as we had predicted.
My mind wandered back to that visit when I opened a recent email from Mary Ann informing us that Helen had died unexpectedly the previous night.
I told her that my fondest memory of her mother would always be the amazing Sunday dinner on the farm.
And, of course, Georgea and I sent sympathy food.
When a thank-you note arrived from Mary Ann, she mentioned that many folks had fond memories of her mother’s cooking — and she had enclosed one of her mom’s cookie recipes.
“We wanted to share a recipe that’s long been a family favorite,” Mary Ann wrote. “Some friends call these Helen Bars. She called them Three-Layer No-Bake Bars.”
Helen Bars are a treat as sweet as my memories of her cooking.

HELEN BARS
Makes 24 to 35 bars

First layer:
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg, beaten
2 cups crushed graham crackers
1 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Second layer:
1/2 cup butter
3 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons instant vanilla pudding mix
2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Third layer:
3/4 cup chocolate chips

For the first layer, place butter, sugar, cocoa and vanilla in the top of a double boiler over medium-low heat and cook until blended. Add the beaten egg (temper first by stirring a bit of hot chocolate mixture into the egg so the egg doesn’t curdle) and cook 5minutes longer, stirring constantly and vigorously. Mixture will turn glossy and thick like hot fudge as it cooks.

In a large bowl, combine chocolate mixture, crumbs, coconut and nuts. Press into a buttered 9-by-13-inch pan. Cool.

For the second layer, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Combine milk and pudding mix; add to butter and mix well. Add confectioners’ sugar gradually; beat until smooth. Spread on first layer. Cool in refrigerator.

Melt the chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler. Spread on top of the second layer. Allow to harden. Cut into bars; store in refrigerator.

Editor’s note: Melted chocolate chips will harden quickly on the cooled second layer. For easier preparation, drizzle the chocolate on top instead, or melt 2 teaspoons of vegetable shortening in the chocolate to make it more spreadable.

PER SERVING (based on 24): 223 calories, 2 g protein, 26 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 18 g sugars, 14 g fat (7 g saturated), 29 mg cholesterol, 48 mg sodium
Lisa Abraham is the Dispatch food editor.