I found myself chewing on some dried, pitted dates yesterday. Nothing unusual in that. We were visiting my parents and my mom stepped out to go to the hairdresser. I volunteered to organize her refrigerator and freezer for her while she was gone. That might sound odd, but, I like to organize everything and my mom gives me carte blanche to organize whatever the h*** I want when I'm there. I found dates in the her refrigerator. The mind works in mysterious ways.
Dates yesterday, a vintage date-nut quick-bread recipe today.
Recipes for Date & Walnut Bread started being published in the 1920's and became very popular with housewives during the 1930's and '40's. My grandmother, a great cook, would have been 23 years old in 1930, and, since she was married at the age of 14, math tells me that her recipe, which likely got clipped out a McCall's or Woman's Day magazine, is somewhere in the neighborhood of 87 years old. She passed away 10 years ago today, at the age of 97, so, 2016 minus 1930 = 87. Yep.
Being Eastern European, dried fruits (currants, dates, raisins, prunes, apricots) were staples in her pantry, and as for walnuts, she felt that "everything tasted better with walnuts added". That said, plenty of housewives, in all cultures globally, baked and cooked with many a dried fruit back then because: the marketplace only had a limited selection of fresh fruits, which in general have a relatively short shelf life, based upon what was in-season and available within a limited delivery area.
Dates grow in clusters on, and are the sweet fruit of, the palm tree. The word "date" comes from the Greek word "daktulos", which means "finger", and, they range in size from 1"-3" long. Drying dates increases their already high sugar content and keeps them from spoiling. A dried date is plump, soft and a bit sticky. I find them in the produce section of our grocery stores and buy them pitted in tubs, and, do my best to use them within a couple days of purchase.
A bit about quick bread: "Quick bread" is an American term that refers to bread that is quick to make because it doesn't require kneading or rising time. It originated during the American civil war, when the demand for food and bread was high. Innovative cooks began rapidly producing bread and baked goods that were leavened with baking soda rather than yeast. Nowadays, the leavening agent is predominately double-acting baking powder, or, a combination of baking powder and baking soda. In the case of baking powder, it is called "double acting" because the rising process starts the moment it makes contact with the liquids, and, gives a second burst of rising power when the bread enters the hot oven. Typically, quick breads contain eggs, flour, salt and fat (butter, margarine, shortening or oil) and leavening. That said, they can be sweet or savory and contain sugar, fruits, fruit puree, vegetables, vegetable puree and various liquids (milk, buttermilk, fruit juice or stock). The wet and dry ingredients are mixed separately, in two different bowls, then briefly stirred together just prior to baking. Biscuits, cornbread, muffins, pancakes, scones, soda bread and waffles all fall into the quick-bread category too!
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 teaspoon apple pie spice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 - 2 1/4 cups sliced dates (Note: 1, 10-ounce tub will yield a little more than 2 cups and I use the entire tub.)
1 - 1 1/4 cups chopped, lightly-toasted walnuts (Place in a shallow baking pan on center rack of preheated oven for 6-7 minutes until lightly-browned and fragrant. Cool completely.)
~Step 1. In a large bowl, over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar and eggs until smooth, 45-60 seconds. Add applesauce, sour cream, apple pie spice and vanilla extract. Over medium-low speed of mixer, combine ingredients, scraping down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula almost constantly, until uniform in color, another 45-60 seconds. Add all of the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Over low mixer speed, fold in the dry ingredients until a thick, uniform in color, quick-bread batter forms, 45-60 more seconds.
~ Step 4. Bake on center rack of moderate 345-350 degree oven for 42-45 minutes, or, until a cake tester inserted several places into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place pan on a wire rack to cool, in pan about 15 minutes prior to inverting out of pan and cooling completely prior to slicing, about 1-2 hours.
Cease, desist & resist the urge to slice before cooled!
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 8" x 4" loaf pan; cake tester; cooling rack
Cook's Note: For another one of my grandmother's "dried fruit, walnut and apple pie spice" combinations, you should try my recipe for her ~ Old-Fashioned Oatmeal-Raisin-Walnut Cookies ~. The recipe is in Categories 7 or 12.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)