Sunday, May 29, 2011

Always fashionable date-nut bread

In the 1960s, wrote Jason Epstein in the New York Times:  "Schrafft's, with its Irish waitresses in their black dresses, white aprons and lace tiaras, with its date-nut bread, creamed chicken with bright green peas and pineapple sundaes, was dying as if in sympathy with the afflicted cityscape itself."

Date-nut bread and cream cheese sandwiches are even more decidedly out of fashion today, and I wonder if they will ever be in fashion again. Even creamed chicken and pot pies are undergoing something of a comfort food Renaissance. But not these:

Flickr: arnold-inutaki
 However, I distinctly recall being introduced to date-nut bread and cream cheese sandwiches soon after the divorce of my parents--they were a meal of which my father would never have approved. Dainty and sweet--how I loved when my mother would allow me to select a moist loaf of the bread, curiously chilled and shrink-wrapped in the dairy section of the Shop Rite. When I was allowed to eat date-nut and cream cheese sandwiches for dinner, sipping Lipton Iced Tea, I suddenly felt transported to a black-and-white or blazing technicolor cinematic world, the kind where actors and actresses snapped witty dialogue at one another and broke into song.
Kiss Me Kate

I've never been very good at beginning fads and fashions. The only craze I can recall beginning was a brief fad for marbles in grade school. I distinctly recall bringing in my mother's old grade school marbles in a bag, along with a new assortment I'd asked for on a whim from the toy store.

The next day, after playing with a few of my friends, other girls bought in marbles. The idea of coveting beautiful, jewel-like things and risking all your wealth with a flick of the thumb appealed to the mindset of middle school girls.

However, since then, I've always been somewhat out-of-step with trends. I wore green nail polish in high school, for example, because I saw Sally Bowles wear it in Cabaret. No one wanted to imitate me then, yet years later the makers of Vamp and Hard Candy polish were able to capitalize upon darker-than-dark or oddly colored shades of varnish.

I wish I was more of a trend magnet. If only I could make people as passionate about rockin' Shakespeare and kick-ass 19th century novels as urban hipsters can make sullen looks and overly expensive and uncomfortable shoes and dry, overpriced cupcakes with odd ingredients au courant.

However, I remain convinced that with this easy date-nut bread recipe, I can help date-nut bread make a comeback.  It's easy, and relatively light on sugar and fat, and high in fiber--I adapted it from this website.  Unless of course you slather it with cream cheese, which will make it even tastier yet up the calorie count a bit.  But you can always dance all of the calories away....

Date-nut bread with Gluten-free, Dairy-free Options

  • 3/4 cup almond milk with one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar stirred into it OR (dairy) buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 pinch cloves (optional)
  • 1 pinch nutmeg (optional)
  • 8 ounces chopped, pitted dates (roughly one cup)
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 large beaten eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups oat flour (gluten-free) OR whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 cup of walnuts

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Oil and line two 8X4 inch loaf pans with parchment.

2. Bring the milk, zest and spices just to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in dates. Soften for 10-20 minutes (depending on the consistency of the dates).

2. Stir the oil, eggs, and sugar together. Add the milk-date mixture.

3. Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together and stir it, by scoopfuls, into the 'wet' batter.

4. Mix together, pour into loaf pans. Sprinkle walnuts liberally on top. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until a toothpick can be extracted cleanly from the loaf.


  1. You mean you got to have date nut bread and cream cheese sandwiches at dinner? How decadent! Btw the person in pink in the middle is...a man, right? Just checking.

  2. @MD--alas, all too rarely! But once or twice--the joys of a recently-divorced mother!

    The woman in the middle is Ann Miller, a famous tap dancer from the 1950s. It's funny how so many of the outfits worn by women during that era DO look like classic drag queen costumes!

  3. I think you can help the trend along, for sure. I've seen a couple of interesting date bread recipes in the past few weeks so maybe there's a sudden interest. I've never actually tried it.

  4. @Anna--I think you would like it--date nut breads have a hearty, 'naturally' sweet quality to them, much like bran muffins. They are kind of on the 'food fence' between dessert and lunch (hence their popularity as a ladies' meal in a bygone era.)