Teatime! This old-fashioned Date-Nut Bread reminds me of my Scottish grandmother. That and shortbread, and fruitcake, sliced very thin. When I, as a kid, visited her siblings in Scotland, I was treated to tea or high tea, always with an assortment of sweet and savory treats. Now teatime may seem quaint, but then it seemed gracious and even elegant as a ritual. Actually it could again if we’d just slow down.
I haven’t made Date-Nut Bread in years but at one time it was a regular part of my large repertoire of quick breads. The ingredients for this month’s Paper Chef challenge – dried dates, cranberries, flour, and candied orange peel – inspired me to revive it. I associate these ingredients, especially the cranberries, with a later time of year when they’re grown locally, but I had some dried ones in my pantry. I also had candied mandarinquats, a hybrid of mandarin oranges and kumquats, which I preserved last winter. If I had had fresh cranberries, I would have made cranberry nut bread with the candied orange, and then we really would have had a tea trolley full of treats! Instead, I mixed the dried cranberries and candied mandarinquat, plus some of its syrup, into cream cheese as a sprightly spread. I thought that the ingredients in the cream cheese would need to get acquainted (and I was right), so I let the mixture sit for a few hours before serving.
One of the interesting aspects of the method for this quick bread is that the dates, nuts, and the shortening and leavening (baking soda) are covered in boiling water and left to sit for 20 minutes, which dissolves much of the date material. This bread is best eaten the second day, since it makes a while to become dense enough to slice. I’m not sure of the origin of the underlying recipe since I must have copied it – in loopy kid’s handwriting — from an old cookbook of my mother’s (Good Housekeeping?) and have since tinkered with it.
Old-fashioned Date-Nut Bread
1 cup chopped pitted dates (6-8 oz weighed with pits)
¾ c chopped walnuts
1 ½ tsp baking soda
3 tbsp butter
¾ c boiling water
1 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ c sifted all-purpose flour
Place the dates, walnut, baking soda, salt and butter in a mixing bowl and stir, breaking up the dates so they do not clump. Pour the boiling water on top, stir to combine, again separating the dates and let sit for 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 7 ½ x 3 ½ x 2 ½ inch loaf pans, or an eight-section mini-loaf pan, or a 9 x 5 3 inch pan.
In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs, add the sugar and vanilla and combine with the date mixture, stirring to blend well. Fold in the flour until just blended.
Bake at 350 degrees, 40-45 minutes for the 7 ½ x 3 ½ x 2 ½ pans, 25-30 minutes for the mini loaves, or1 hour for the single loaf. Remove from the pans after about 10 minutes to finish cooling on a rack. Wrap and store the bread for a day before serving.