Eat Well: Memorable Dates

The following post was written by my mom, WWW. Thanks, mom!
A childhood memory can suddenly appear at the weirdest time, like an old friend popping in for an unexpected visit. It can be triggered by a smell, a taste, a conversation, or something we see or read. This happened to me the other day when I was at work. We are doing a musical about dancing through the ages, and when we started blocking the rock and roll scene, the kids had a lot of questions. “What are saddle shoes? And bobby socks? What’s a 45?” Pat, my partner, told the kids all about saddle shoes and bobby socks and how she used to wear them with pedal pushers, white blouses, and cute scarves around her neck. “45s were small records that had an A side and a B side," I explained. "The A side was the hot new song that was, or would hopefully become, a hit on the radio, and on the B side was a lesser known song by the same artist.” The kids all looked at me blankly. “What’s a record?” one child asked. And suddenly we were telling them about portable record players, radio stations, American Bandstand, and the beginnings of rock and roll. “My dad wouldn’t let us play rock and roll records at home,” I told them. “We only listened to show tunes, classical, and music from the 30’s and 40’s in my house.” And this is when the memory slipped in unannounced. I was suddenly 6 years old, the year was 1962, and we were visiting my grandparents in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. My sister and I had gone to their neighbors’ house and were sitting on the top bunk of one of the kids’ beds. “She-e-rry, Sherry Baby…” blared from a portable record player and I’d never heard anything like it. The next song was The Monster Mash and by the time they put on Flying Purple People Eater, I was hooked. This was my introduction to rock and roll and a couple of years later I would have pictures of George Harrison plastered all over my bedroom walls.
When I got home from work, I found on the Internet that Sherry and The Monster Mash were both released in 1962, corroborating my memory. (The Purple People Eater came out a few years earlier, but was obviously still a favorite.) And then I started remembering other things we did that summer…catching fireflies in jars, running in the woods behind my grandparent’s house, and munching on date nut bread spread with cream cheese under their weeping willow tree. I loved this treat—the combination of the sweet bread and salty cheese was heaven. I don’t think Gran made her date nut bread from scratch. As I remember, she loved the sticky moist version made by Van de Kamp so much that she stopped making her own. That’s the brand my mother bought, too. Years later when I went back east to meet Larry’s family for the first time, I once again ate date nut bread with cream cheese at his grandmother’s house—and hers was homemade. 
Belle's recipe

Grandma Belle always kept some of her famous date nut bread in the freezer and after we were married, she would hand us a loaf to take home when we visited her. And she did the same for all 15 of her other grandchildren.

Yesterday I found a recipe that mimics the Van de Kamp recipe of my youth and decided to make it as well as Grandma Belle’s. I made them both with Pamela’s Artisan flour and wasn’t sure how they would turn out with the gluten free flour. Right when I had just sliced and spread them both with home made dairy free cream “cheese” to sample, my friend Lorraine dropped by. She has been recently diagnosed as gluten and dairy intolerant and is struggling with figuring out how to adjust her recipes since she is a huge foodie and fabulous cook and baker. Lorraine couldn’t eat the Van de Kamp date nut bread since I had used butter but she gave Grandma Belle’s gluten free date nut bread with the dairy free cream cheese a huge thumbs up as did I. And the Van de Kamp recipe? One bite sent me back again to 1962. No weeping willow to sit under this time—just two girls sitting at a kitchen table, talking and munching on the sweet, moist bread.

Grandma Belle’s date nut bread is more traditional cake-like loaf with chunks of dates throughout whereas the Van de Kamp style cake is a uniform loaf—soft, dense and moist. Both are delicious.
Van de Kamp on left, Belle's loaf on right 

You could cut down the sugar to ½ cup and substitute the butter with applesauce if you want a no dairy version. (You can also substitute the egg with applesauce. The rule of thumb is to replace butter 1:1 with applesauce and substitute each egg with ¼ cup of applesauce.) I HIGHLY recommend using Medjool dates for both recipes. They are the best dates. In fact, you probably don’t have to soak them in boiling water since they already are so gooey!


Grandma Belle’s Nut and Date Bread 

10 oz. pitted, chopped dates (preferably Medjool)
1 cup boiling water with 1 tsp of baking soda dissolved in it
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
½ cup chopped walnuts
Juice and rind of ¼ lemon or more (I did ½ a lemon)

- Preheat oven to 350
- Grease and flour a nine inch loaf pan
- In a large bowl, pour boiling water over dates and let stand until cool.
- When cool, beat well with 1 up of sugar.
- Add beaten egg and beat lightly (by hand). 
- In a separate bowl, combine baking powder, flour and salt. 
- Add dry mixture to wet mixture and mix well. Add lemon, lemon rind, and walnuts and stir. 
- Pour into loaf pan and bake at 350 for one hour.
Date-Nut Bread (Like Van de Kamp’s, above right)
From Wayne Schmidt’s Cooking Page

4 oz. moist, fresh, pitted dates, chopped (preferably Medjool)
1 cup water
1 cup packed light brown sugar
4 tbsp butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
½ tsp salt
1 tsp real vanilla extract
½ cup walnut pieces 
1 1/3 cup unbleached flour (or Pamela’s artisan flour blend for gluten free bread
½ tsp baking powder

- Preheat oven to 325
- Combine the dates and water in a blender and puree until smooth.
- Pour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt, vanilla, brown sugar, egg and melted butter.
- Beat with a mixer on low until smooth.
- Mix in the walnut pieces.
- Combine the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl and then stir this into the wet mixture. Only mix until the batter is smooth.
- Pour into a greased 8x4 inch bread pan and bake for 60- 70 minutes in a 325 degree oven.  (A toothpick should come out clean when inserted into the middle of the loaf.)
- Remove from the oven and cover immediately with aluminum foil tented so it doesn’t touch the top of the loaf.
- Cool for one hour before slicing.
Dairy-free cream “cheese” 

1 ½ cups raw cashews
water for soaking
1/3 cup water
The juice of 1 lemon
¼ teaspoon salt or to taste

Soak cashews for a few hours or overnight. Drain well. Combine with 1/3 cup water and lemon juice in a high-speed blender and blend until smooth.
Add more water or lemon juice if needed. Add salt to taste. (You can add lemon peel or a little nutmeg to it if you want.) Spread on date nut bread and enjoy!