Just recently, I was able to sit down with my grandmother and sort through all of her recipes and cookbooks because she is no longer able to spend much time in the kitchen and my grandfather has become the primary cook in the house. There were certainly many treasures to be found. The first of the treasures she gave me was a book called "12 Pies Men Like Best," which I find just hilarious. How June Cleaver-ish! It was some kind of advertisement from Proctor and Gamble in 1931. The front of the little pamphlet shows a woman in an apron holding out a pie to a smartly dressed man. Like I want to make pies that men like because men like them! Ha! I want to make pies because I like them (although, um, uh, I guess I do try to make stuff that LB likes...)!
The next treasure was the cookbook pictured above; this one belonged to my grandmother's mother, my great-grandmother. I have no idea how old it is because unfortunately, the cover is missing, but it looks to be quite old, worn and well-used. I've tried finding the title on the web to figure out its publication date to no avail (there are cookbooks with this same name published in the 1800s all the way to the 1930s). But since it belonged to my grandmother's mother, and my great grandmother died when my grandma was young, it has to at least be at least as old as the 1930s. It's so amazing though: It's a compilation of recipes from home cooks around the U.S. and there are recipes for such dishes as rabbit pie, chow chow, watermelon ice cream, "luscious cake," and sour pickles. You can also note that the instructions are far less detailed than they are today, making me think that women, since they spent so much time in the home those days, had much more knowledge than I do about how to do things (like "make a pie crust that is delicately baked," and dress and joint a chicken "as usual") so that there didn't need to be much instruction in the recipe for them to follow. It's just amazing to look through! I'm definitely going to try some of these recipes when I get around to it...now, if I can only figure out how to dress and joint a chicken...
But lately, the one thing I've been treasuring most of all, was my great-grandmother's recipe for Date Nut Loaf Cake. I've decided that just as she passed it on to me, I will pass it on to you, because it's delcious! It's called a cake, but it's more like banana or zucchini bread...it's rich and dense, with a very distinct caramel flavor to it - especially in the end pieces (my favorite). It's also a wonderfully refreshing contrast to the usual banana or zucchini bread. At first I thought that perhaps I had written things down wrong because there were no spices in the ingredient list - but no, it has so much flavor to it that there's no need (although, I may try adding some cardamom or perhaps a little cinnamon next time, just to see what it ends up like). The recipe is also done a little differently than I normally would do things; for instance, creaming the butter and sugar and eggs together (I usually would do sugar and butter together, then do eggs one at a time), but this works too, so I've just written it as she did. Another note: the humidity of where you live will make a big difference in the texture of the loaf. I made this in Oregon exactly as written and it came out beautifully - I made it in Colorado and it came out crumbly and didn't hold together well, so you may need to fiddle with the amount of liquid if that happens to you.
Great-Grandma's Date Nut Loaf Cake, recipe courtesy of my grandmother
1 cup butter or trans-fat free shortening (the original calls for shortening)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup hot water
1 lb. nuts (pecans in her recipe, although I used a mixture of pecans and walnuts)
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
2 1/2 cup flour
1 lb. pitted dates, chopped
1 tsp. baking powder
Chop the dates and put them in a bowl. Sprinkle them with baking soda and add hot water. Mix, then let stand until cool. Cream together butter, sugar and eggs, then mix together flour, baking powder, salt and nuts in a separate bowl. Beat together the butter mixture with the flour mixture and date mixture, alternating between them and ending on the dates. Bake 1 hour at 300 F.
This is best made in a cast iron skillet, supposedly. If you don't have one (like I don't), it will make two standard-sized loaf pans of the bread (I'm not sure of the size of the cast iron skillet she used either). Be sure and grease them, and line the bottom with either a sized piece of brown paper grocery bag (grandma's way) or parchment paper (my way). Important: No matter which container you're cooking in, about 15 minutes into baking, you'll want to put tin foil around the edges to prevent them from burning...this gives it that nice caramelized crust. Enjoy!