It's almost Thanksgiving, which always brings to mind food and family.
When I wrote about my family's cherry squares recipe a few months ago, I talked to my grandmother, Norma Harris of Howland, about our traditional family recipes. She reminded me of a recipe that I had never made and hadn't thought about in quite a while: date loaf.
In my close-knit family, we get together almost every Sunday at my grandparents' home - siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and now grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And when families get together, there's almost always food. Usually we just have chips and cookies, but Grandma likes to make something different every now and then. Around Thanksgiving when I?was growing up, Grandma would make date loaf. When my siblings and cousins and I were all kids, we thought this was totally gross - dates and nuts cooked in a moist, flavorful loaf? No, thanks, pass the chips. (If Grandpa was feeling indulgent, as Grandpas often do, we'd be allowed to have a bowl of whipped cream.) The adults, however, loved it, especially my dad.
A slice of date loaf warm from the oven with a scoop of ice cream, just the way Dad liked it.
As Grandma tells it, "I made it the night before Thanksgiving, and your dad came in with your family and I cut it and served it warm." She would add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and Dad was hooked. "He started coming in a night or two before Thanksgiving to get it warm," Grandma said.
When Grandma told me this story, I knew that I had to make date loaf for this Tribune Cooks feature, just before Thanksgiving. My dad died of leukemia in February 2005, and cooking up one of his favorite recipes seemed like a good way to remember him at this time of year.
I found the recipe very easy to follow, and to my more refined and adult tastebuds, date loaf was not "totally gross," but "totally delicious."
10 oz. pitted dates, cut in quarters
1 level tsp. baking soda
1 cup boiling water
1 cup sugar
1 T butter
1 cup chopped nuts
1 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Sprinkle baking soda over dates. Pour boiling water over dates and let cool. Add remaining ingredients. Mix together and bake at 350 degrees in an ungreased baking pan for about one hour. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.
Some advice from Grandma: if you're using whole dates, use kitchen scissors to cut them into fourths. I took a shortcut and bought dates that were already chopped. I also made the original recipe gluten-free by substituting 1 1/2 cups Bob's Red Mill gluten-free flour mix and 1/2 teaspoon of xanthan gum for the regular flour.