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Denver Brownies

These are sooooo good. I think these may rank as one of my favorite of Maida's numerous brownie recipes (my favorites are the Palm Beach Brownies and the Santa Fe Brownies ). Maida Heatter says she got the recipe at a television station in Denver and was told that Julia Child had raved about them. I can see why.  3/4 cup all-purpose flour 1/4 tsp. baking powder 1/4 tsp. salt 1/3 cup honey 2 tbsp. water or coffee 4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter, in pieces at room temperature 6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped 1 tsp. vanilla extract 2 eggs 1 1/2 cups (6 oz.) walnuts or pecans, cut into medium-sized pieces 2 tbsp. bourbon, brandy, or rum Preheat oven to 325. Line a 9-inch square pan with foil. Butter the foil and set aside. (Note: It is helpful to cut the foil large enough so that it drapes over the sides of the pan. This will make it easier to remove from the pan). Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Place the honey, water or coffee, butter and choco

Smoke Tree 'Golden Spirit'

Before moving to Washington, I used to frequent a forum where would-be transplants could post questions about living in the Vancouver area (housing, neighborhoods, schools or whatever was on their mind). I remember a post where the topic was the local flora. Of course, there was the usual appreciation of the beauty of the area and the wide range of plants. Then suddenly, a man who had just moved here interjected a rant about how he hated a certain tree that he saw planted everywhere in the city. It was the ugliest thing he had ever seen! After describing it, someone identified the offender as Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria). It was humorous to hear his opinions and it shows how people have differing views on plants.

Personally, I don't find the Smoke Tree unattractive at all although when grown poorly, it can look ragged.  The guy from the post was referring to the Purple Smoketree (sometimes called Smoke Bush as it can be grown as a small tree or large shrub). There are many varieties of it and we grow 'Purple Purple' which is very common. A more recent introduction called 'Grace' is very popular with more orange-tinted foliage and it is indeed very attractive.

The gold-leaved varieties are somewhat different in look and form and perhaps the forum poster would like it better.  I find 'Golden Spirit' to be a stunning plant and it was so beautiful this year. In the late evening in certain light conditions, it just glows. It isn't advertised as being as large as the purple varieties (most sources quote 8') although I have seen one in a neighborhood nearby where it is at least 12 feet tall. The blooms on 'Golden Spirit' are also not as prominent, if it blooms at all.

Smoke Tree grows extremely fast once it gets established. It is easy to train into tree-form by limbing up the branches by removing lower growth. Pruning in spring  is said to curtail the puffy smoke-like blooms that appear later in summer but even if you didn't have the flowers, the foliage is still a major attraction. It looks good as either a specimen tree or mixed in border with other plants.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy


  1. I've always admired the plant and in fact planted 'Royal Purple' a few years ago. I fell in love with 'Grace' when I first saw it in the DC area but, based on the few occasions I've seen it in my own area, it doesn't hold up as well in SoCal as the varieties with dark foliage. I've never had anything in the way of flowers, probably because I cut it back hard each year.

  2. I love ALL the Smoke trees - their rounded leaves, and the little red, scalloped edge that develops on Royal Purple in hot summers. I had a large (up to our eaves) Golden Spirit in my garden for a long time, but after an unusual stretch of several 100F+ days, it contracted some kind of disease, and started gradually dying back. We were gone that week, and the tree was half crispy when we returned. I was so sad... Left it to see if it would re-sprout the following spring. It did, but the leaves soon curled up again, upon emerging. It never returned to normal, so I took it out. I still miss it!

  3. It boggles my mind that anyone can hate such a lovely plant. Or any plant, really.
    A purple smoke tree volunteer occasionally shows up in my garden. One year I decided to tend to it and train it on a single trunk. It is now taller than me and will be pruned for the fist time next spring. I love the leaf color and the contrast with Japanese forest grass growing at it's base.


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