This adaptation of the classic lemon bar showcases the distinctive flavor of the autumn olive
[The autumn olive, Elaeagnus umbellata, is a beautiful shrub or small tree with fragrant flowers in the spring and abundant fruit in the fall. No relation to the true olive, it’s native to eastern Asia. Since it can fix atmospheric nitrogen it can grow where little else will, and highway departments and land managers all over the United States gladly planted it along roadsides and “waste ground” to beautify the landscape, prevent erosion, provide windbreaks and feed wild birds. It does all of these things but that last is the problem: birds have spread it far beyond its intended space and it’s now an invasive pest, crowding out native plants wherever it grows. Unlike most of the growing army of invasive alien species, autumn olive has delicious fruit that look like ¼-inch red berries but are actually drupes, each with a single small pit. They’re readily recognizable because the berries are covered with tiny gold or silver speckles. Besides tasting good, they’re a particularly rich source of the antioxidant lycopene (17 times as much as tomatoes).]

Shortbread Crust:
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar

  • 1 cup flour

  • ⅛ teaspoon salt

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1 tablespoon flour

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (or a bit more, it complements the flavor well)

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

  • 1 cup autumn olive puree from fairly tart fruit

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

  2. Line an 8 x 8 inch baking pan with parchment paper
    [I fold a large square into a box shape. A quicker, but leakier, method is to cross two strips. The goal is to lift it intact out of the pan when done.]

  3. In the mixer, beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Add flour and salt and beat until the dough just starts to form clumps.

  4. Press the dough into the bottom of the parchment-lined pan.

  5. Bake until lightly brown around the edges (about 18-20 minutes) then remove from oven to a cooling rack.

  6. While the crust bakes, beat the eggs, the sugar, flour, and vanilla.

  7. In a separate container, like a cup, dissolve the cornstarch in a little bit of the autumn olive puree, then add it to the eggs.

  8. Add the rest of the autumn olive puree to the eggs and beat well.

  9. When the crust is ready, pour the filling over it and return the pan to the oven.

  10. Bake for about 20 minutes, then continue in ten-minute increments, checking to see whether the filling has set (jiggle the pan). If you’ve beaten it vigorously, at some point it will puff up.

  11. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool and set further.

  12. As it cools, the puffed-up filling will settle. At that point, grasp the parchment and lift the entire pastry from the pan. Pry the paper away from the filling along the edges.

  13. After the puffing and settling, the edges will be raised. Cut them away
    [The baker gets to eat these, for quality control!]
    , leaving a uniform square.

  14. When cooled, cut the square into individual pieces; I generally make twenty-five squares. Dust with powdered sugar
    [A few drops of bergamot oil in the powdered sugar adds an interesting highlight.]
    and serve.

Variations for Dietary Restrictions:

Gluten-Free: For my friends with wheat sensitivity, I’ve been experimenting with gluten-free options for the shortbread. So far I’ve tried Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free shortbread cookie mix. Half the dough from a 21-oz bag will fit nicely into the pan as the crust, but you need to work it hard and press it firmly into the pan to make it structurally strong. While the taste is good (as were the cookies I made with the other half of the dough), my subjective impression was that it doesn’t seem to complement the fruit quite as well as the regular crust, so I plan to keep experimenting with other GF options.

When making gluten-free crust, don’t forget the tablespoon of flour in the filling—use a bit more cornstarch instead.

Lactose-Free: Most vegan butter substitutes I’ve found seem to be essentially margarine, and crummy margarine at that, and always salted. Nutiva makes a butter-flavored coconut oil that is really good. Substitute equally for the butter, but beat it with a tablespoon or two of water (since butter contains water and coconut oil doesn’t, and that affects the texture of the shortbread crust). Baking time for the crust is a bit longer. This also works just fine for the Lemon Bars recipe from which this is derived.


This recipe is an adaptation of Stephanie Jaworsky’s Lemon Bars recipe at ( but using autumn olive puree instead of lemon juice and zest. Since autumn olive isn’t as intensely-flavored as lemon, I increased the filling to balance the shortbread.