Mertie’s Mondays—Nearly Grammie’s Date Nut Bread

A valiant attempt at making Grammie’s date-nut bread.

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I believe that tea breads have somewhat gone out of fashion these days. Banana bread is the exception. Producing a loaf of fruit and nut bread suitable for an afternoon snack with coffee or tea just doesn’t happen any more. I fondly remember cranberry-orange breads, but the best was my grandmother’s date nut bread.

Date Nut Bread
Nearly Grammie's Date Nut Bread

She was an Acadian, from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. She came to Lynn, Massachusetts in the 1920s and, as so many Acadian girls did in those days, she went into service. After being a maid for wealthy families on the North Shore of Boston, she took a job as a waitress in a café in Lynn that was frequented by workers in the nearby General Electric River Works.

One day a customer asked her whether she would go out with him. She said: “Are you a Catholic?” He answered, “No, I’m a Methodist.” “Well,” she replied, “my mother would never let me go out with a Protestant.”

The customer considered this for a moment and said, “Well, then, if I become a Catholic will you go out with me?” They soon married and had three children, one of whom was my mother.

My grandmother was an excellent cook. Along with Acadian delicacies such as rappie pie she soon started to cook and bake the best cakes, pies, cookies, roasts, and almost anything you might want. During the summertime we three siblings were parked with our grandparents, one at a time, to give our parents a bit of respite. In the afternoon Grammie always had something that she’d baked for our snack. Sometimes it was toll house cookies, which were as good as my Mom’s. And sometimes it would be date nut bread, slathered with Philadelphia cream cheese or butter.

I have dreamed of reproducing those date nut breads for years, but never got a Round Tuit, as they say. I’ve had the ingredients in my cupboard for a while now, and today, I got that Round Tuit.

Nearly Grammie’s Date Nut Bread

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar or Splenda
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups dates, chopped
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350° F/Gas Mark 4.

In a mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, brown sugar, and white sugar. Mix in egg and vanilla extract. Set aside.

In another bowl mix together dates and walnuts. Pour the boiling water over date and nut mixture. Set aside.

Grease a medium loaf pan with vegetable oil or similar. I put a bit of oil in the bottom and then spread it around with a paper towel. Add dry ingredient mixture to date-nut mixture. Mix well. It will be fairly stiff in consistency. Spoon into loaf pan.

Bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour. Test by pushing a wooden toothpick or skewer into the centre of the loaf; if the skewer comes out clean the bread is done. Turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack; after 15 minutes the loaf is ready to serve. Cream cheese is the perfect spread; failing that, butter. If you must, margarine. Tea or coffee make your afternoon break divine.

You may indeed wonder why I call this “Nearly Grammie’s Date Nut Bread”. Well, I thought that this recipe was the closest I could come to what I remember she made. Her recipe book, alas, is lost. When I took it out of the oven, I discovered that the outer crust was crisp, but I remember hers as being soft. If anyone has a suggestion as to how to soften up the crust of this bread, please feel free to comment. I am a very tentative baker, and experimenting with a baking recipe makes me very nervous. Mom and Grammie were confident bakers, and it will take quite a while before I am as confident and as good at it as they were.

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Author: Chris Hansen

Expat American living in London, now a British citizen as well. I was originally from Marblehead, Massachusetts, and that's where my mom raised me, so my momfood comes from New England.