Last week’s cocktail post mentioned a resolution to school myself in basic mixology and part of that goal will be sharing progress here. But in keeping with the title of this blog, food must also star. In that vein, my plan for the year (subject to change, of course–let’s not pin me down 😉 ) is to alternate Cocktail U posts with another recipe project I’ve long wanted to tackle: Great-aunt Helen’s recipe box.
My mom’s Aunt Helen, who passed away 10 years ago at age 92, was an independent, strong women before being an independent, strong woman was something to aspire to. She never married, instead focusing on travel (camping especially) and her career as a social worker. Helen’s house, in an old Minneapolis neighborhood, was small but every corner had a purpose. The coffee table with the travel souvenirs, the wicker toy basket that now sits in my basement holding my girls’ playthings, the creaky steps we were never to climb as they led to an upstairs apartment she rented out. And the kitchen: sink, refrigerator, stove, table, a chair or two, and a few cupboards. These basics took up every inch of space.
But a small kitchen was common back then and didn’t stop Great-aunt Helen from cooking. Though she mostly made meals only for herself when I knew her, she had multiple recipe boxes that I’ve since inherited. They sit on my shelf and I’ll occasionally flip through, her handwriting reminding me of the sometimes curt but always generous Great-aunt Helen I knew.
Even with all of her recipes in my possession, the only foods I connect directly to Great-aunt Helen are her paper-thin sugar cookies and the from-scratch hot chocolate she’d stir in a metal pan on that rickety stove. Both were divine. It seems odd, then, that I’ve yet to dig deeper into her recipe boxes. The time has come to change that. Alternating with the cocktail posts will be Great-aunt Helen’s recipes. Food and drink, covered.
Helen’s recipes are vintage 50s and 60s–frugal, basic. As I flip through her recipe cards, I’m drawn more to the cookies and cakes, but I’ll try to make the savory, too. (Though no promises on those calling for canned creamed soups–a girl has to have her standards.)
Today’s recipe had to be Helen’s date bread as it was easy to pull together quickly from what I had on hand.It makes a lovely loaf–ideal for breakfast, snack, and dessert. Spread peanut butter over it and lunch can also be had.Creative types can mix in citrus zest, shredded coconut, nuts, chocolate, and the like, but I wanted my first date with this date bread to be true to Great-aunt Helen’s intentions. (That said, I did sprinkle the unbaked loaf generously with espresso sugar.) It seems the perfect start for this series as it makes a no-nonsense loaf that’s filling and practical, while also being generous and just a wee bit extravagant.Great-Aunt Helen’s Date Bread
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup egg, beaten
- 1/4 cup butter, cut into small pieces
- 1/2 cup chopped dates
Heat oven to 350ºF. Coat 9×5-inch bread pan with cooking spray.
In large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In glass measure, combine milk and egg.
Cut butter into dry ingredients until incorporated. Add milk mixture; stir just to blend. Stir in dates. Transfer batter to pan. Bake 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted into center of loaf comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.
Next week we’ll return to the cocktail classroom, perhaps to make the perfect sipper to accompany this bread and offer a toast to Great-aunt Helen.
Wow! What an amazing thing to have from your Great Aunt Helen – and what a wonderful way to honour her memory! I can’t help but think that Great Aunt Helen would be pleased by this post. And I have to say, I am really excited to see what else you make from her culinary repertoire. She sounded like an interesting lady. I’m not a huge date fan, but this bread actually looks pretty tempting to me. How fun!
Thanks, HD. Love that you’re here first 🙂 I’m curious what else I’ll be making, too. Going to take some discipline to make something from the boxes every other week, but that’s what resolutions are about, I guess. You would have appreciated Helen very much.
how lucky you have this and the espresso sugar just kicks it up a notch )
Thanks, Beth. I have a number of flavored sugars which I bought with cocktails rimming in mind, but topping baked goods works, too.
I just love vintage recipes. How wonderful that you inherited Great Aunt Helen’s treasure trove of recipes. She sounds like she was a wonderful, strong woman. This date bread looks amazing, I am a big fan of dates, especially medjool. The bread looks moist and delicious. Looking forward to more from your mixology series as well and what you would pair with this bread.
Thanks, Suzanne. Helen would have loved all of my strong, independent female blogging friends! This bread was lovely and quite possibly the first date bread I have ever made. My parents visited the Date Capitol of the US or some such town and brought me oodles of dates in different forms. Have been slow-going on using them up, but this bread worked nicely. My favorite has been stirring the date “crystals” into ice cream for a date shake 🙂
Yes when i lived in california i used to go to the date farms and they make date milk shakes and they are wonderful. I love dates!
This looks good!!!
Thanks, Liz. It goes down especially nicely while binge-watching on netflix 🙂
OMG i love Aunt Helen. What a cool renegade. My grandma loves date bread. This looks amazing and I love that you have her handwriting. I’d love to try this in honor of the strong spirit of Aunt Helen. Thanks so much for this lovely post, Liz.
She would love you, too, Amanda! Thinking date bread is definitely old-school eats. Next post I’ll include a photo of the recipe card. Am over-the-moon honored to have her recipe collection. Yes, a strong spirit. Need to keep that going 🙂 Thank YOU for your lovely comments.
Oooh! I just bought lots of medjool dates. You’v inspired me, Liz.
Princess! Glad you saw this as I was thinking of your posts that pay tribute to strong older women in your life. Sounds like it’s time for you to get your date bread on 🙂
What a great new addition to your blog, and such a personal connection on this collection. I ate a ton of dates growing up, but haven’t lately, so I’ll have to revisit them. Had never heard of espresso sugar before. Can’t wait to see what Aunt Helen has in store for us next! I only wish you had a picture of her holding the date bread. 🙂
Thanks, Kerbey. Glad you’re on board for Great-aunt Helen’s Recipe Box 🙂 I don’t eat dates, figs, etc often enough. Too busy snarfing down chocolate and the like. You and I should use our Wonder Twin Powers to reach for dates next time we want something sweet. I do have a few pictures of her, but none with the date bread. Since I do not have your scanning skills, Helen’s image may not make an appearance on this blog. Will see what I can do.
1) Bake date bread. 2) Sell date bread. 3) Buy a scanner. 🙂
I love the idea of eating this slathered with peanut butter!
Thanks for coming over, Karinna 🙂 Will definitely try it with peanut butter.
Sharing the recipes of Great-aunt Helen is a precious addition to your blog, Liz. I adore the backstory, too. The strong, independent woman has always received high grades in my book. The photo of this date bread is absolutely delicious. I fig-ure I’d want to break me off a big hunk. I hope in your alternating weeks with the cocktail tales, you’ll give us more stories about Great-aunt Helen as well as her recipes.
Thanks, Mark. Your support is always much appreciated. Precious is a good word for Great-aunt Helen. She got crotchety in her last years, but even that only underscored her unwillingness to march to any other drummer but her own. Great idea to share stories–love how this “project” continues to evolve. Only 1/3 cup sugar in the loaf–does this mean you could have a small slice?
I would indulge, Liz. 🙂
What a lovely story and recipe! 🙂
If you like the combination of dates and coffee, like you’ve done here, you’re invited to check out my recipe for dates and coffee breakfast bread. https://ronitpenso.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/almond-coffee-banana-and-dates-breakfast-bread/
love that we’re matching each other recipe-for-recipe 🙂 Can’t wait to see your recipe. Thanks for sharing 🙂 Am excited to continue through Helen’s recipe box. Definitely a treasure trove.
I love such old recipes. Looking forward to see read all about your discoveries. 🙂
Looks fabulous, Liz! I’m loving dates in all their glory these days, and this bread appears to be another perfect use for them! Delicious 😛
Dates seem kind of old-school, so it was fun to pull them out. Would love to see what you do with them! Thanks for your kind words.
What a wonderful story Liz. I love the idea of vintage recipes. I inherited a cookbook from my grandmother that was 52 Sunday dinners for the 1920’s. They had very different ideas about cooking back then.
Can’t wait to see what you come up with!
BTW, where on earth do you get espresso sugar!?!
Thanks, Tracy. What a great find with your grandma’s cookbook. There’s a small spice shop in a neighboring town and they have small packets of wickedly brilliant sugar flavors. I bought them thinking cocktail rimmers, but why not use to top baked goods? 🙂
I’ll have to keep my eyes open for the flavored sugars. Great idea.
Liz, I love the story of your Great-Aunt Helen! I can’t wait to hear more of your experiences cooking from her recipes. It’s so exciting when we are able to share recipes from the older generation. So cool! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks, Shamin 🙂 I’m with you on enjoying old-school recipes. History in general has never grabbed me, but I love food history. So much to learn from generations past. Have talked with my mom about her memories of Helen since writing this post, so collecting more background. Should start thinking about which recipe to make next.
So glad you’re here!! Hope things go well on your end.
Liz I love this and how interesting the espresso sugar…I have some dates at home too, maybe that will have to be made this weekend 🙂 Thank you for posting yum!!
Thank you for coming by, Amy. Love having you here 🙂 Am sure you’d do wonderful things with espresso sugar. Did you bake this weekend?
Well this is the weirdest thing. I went into a café in my town the other day, and they had DATE BREAD. And I bought some, and it was still warm, and it was like falling in love in front of a fire. I bet it wasn’t as nice as yours though… 🙂
We have achieved some sort of symbiosis it seems–you see it and I post it 🙂 Your date bread sounds amazing. Would that I could send you some. I would I would.
Aunt Helen’s recipe is awesome:-) love it
Thank you 🙂
I love using dates in baking — they add such a nice sweetness without being too sugary. Digging the addition of espresso sugar too. Bet that made a great breakfast! And I totally love your idea of cooking from your great aunt’s recipe box. I am going to try to snag one of my grandma’s the next time I’m up at her house. Though (as a long-standing family joke goes) I can only hope I can decipher her handwriting!
I’ve always thought dates to be a bit boring, but am sold on them now. Hope you end up with all of your grandma’s recipes. Great way of keeping her with you 🙂
I really like the sound of this bread–it seems that dates were used a lot more by our foremothers and have fallen out of fashion. I love the rollup date pinwheel cookies but your bread looks much more manageable!
Agreed that dates are old-school and due a revival. Thanks for coming by 🙂 Hope you’re enjoying all on your end. Busy as a bee, I’d bet!
Such a wonderful story, Liz! I love vintage recipes, especially if they belonged to our aunties or grandmothers; they are priceless! 🙂 I’m loving dates and eat them very often as is with a cup of tea or coffee.
Thanks. Agree that vintage recipes are priceless, all the more so when they’re from a close friend or relation. I know I’ll be increasing my date consumption after making this bread. Appreciate your kind words very much 🙂
I feel like food tastes even better when there is a story behind it 😀 Love vintage anything really!
Delicious looking date bread!
Choc Chip Uru
Thanks, CCU. Yes to the vintage anything. Half of my closet is thrifted. And don’t even get me started on glassware. What do you like to collect?
Wow Liz, that bread looks super luscious…. love addition of dates there….
Thanks! Haven’t done much with dates, but that is going to change 🙂
Looks deLizcious!! 😉
But, now I’m hungry. Thanks for that. 😦
Oh, I like your (loose, non-restrictive) plans for the blog. Looking forward to catching up!!
EJ! Wherever have you been? Good to see you again 🙂 I can see you digging loose, non-restrictive plans 😉 Appreciate you stopping in very much.
Hey Liz! I’ve been… actually I’ve no idea. But I’m here, now! You’re right, those ‘plans’ are my favourite plans. Good to see you too, and good to see this place still kicking! I may not re-enact all the food recipes, but you can bet I’ll give all the cocktail ones a good go! 😉
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I will be ma,ing it today! I love tha rect that you topped it with espresso sugar that must be very delicious too! Yumm! x
Hope you were able to make a loaf, Sophie. Bet it would taste just as good with whole grain or even gluten-free flours. Those dates are just so tasty! Thanks for coming over for a visit and also your kind words 🙂
I made it 2 times now & love it every time! So tasty too!! xxx
I am flattered!!! Thrilled you like it. Did you sub out the all-purpose flour for a gluten-free mix?
No, I don’t live gluten-free but I used organic white spelt flour in here! 🙂 Spelt flour is my favorite! I prefer that over GF!
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I had two Great Aunts who were so special, Aunt Dot was a teacher but was a strong and independent ‘suffragette’ while being married to a pharmacist. My other Great Aunt Marie lived with my Aunt Dot and Uncle George. She worked at the Gloucester, Mass. “Gorton’s Fishery.” She called it this, but it was a factory. She had been married a brief 10 years to an older Uncle Pete, but he ended up dying of alcohol poisoning, Their love story is written on my blog, since I love to write about people in the past, whether I am related to them or not!
I love that your Great Aunt traveled and was very independent, too. My Great Aunt Marie rented out cottages, while Uncle Pete was a newspaper man. This reminded me of your Great Aunt Helen who rented up her upstairs. Such a prudent way of being able to have money for her camping and travel escapades.
Very cool that you have special Great-aunts as well!!! Great stories. History can be crazy. Wonder what kind of stories folks will tell about our lives one day?
Definitely need to visit your blog 🙂
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