12.10.06

"12 Pies Men Like Best" and Other Treasures


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)
2 eggs
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!

17 comments from you:

ilva said...

Thanks Michelle! It sounds really great and with the right amount of ingredients that are playing out their flavours against each other! Thanks to your grandmother as well!

vlb5757 said...

Michelle-I love dates and my grandmother used to make this candy called, "Date Loaf". She passed away a few years ago and I am afraid that the recipe went with her. We used to get little tins at Christmas with that and Divinity as gifts. We loved that stuff! I will try this date cake with my NEW cast iron skillet! I will post how it goes. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful recipe and the story with it.

Brilynn said...

What wonderful finds!

michelle said...

Hi Ilva!
Anything for you, dear... :)
Grandma is happy knowing that it's out there being made again!

Hi Vickie!
The candy sounds awesome! I didn't really understand how yummy dates could be until this bread, as they aren't something I frequently eat. I can't wait to hear how it goes - I'm curious what size cast iron this fits in and how it cooks differently. Congrats on your NEW pan (I'm so jealous!).

Hi Brilynn!
Thank you for coming by! I may have to see if LB likes any of those 12 pies best!

Paz said...

Ohhh! I love the sound of your recipe. Thanks to your grandmother! Looks really good.

Paz

Anonymous said...

It is nice to see two posts within a week. I love hearing you talk about Oregon. You give me a new perspective about this area I tend to take for granted. Keep the posts coming. :)

Julie said...

Being given an heirloom recipe from your great-grandmother is an amazing thing. Plus, it looks really good!

Nerissa said...

I just loved the commentary on the know-how of the homemakers of old. There IS so much assumption of what techniques were known. But on the other hand I have to laugh at some of the dumb-downed recipes of today. I mean I would hope that people should know that after handling chicken one should clean their hands AND after you've prepped your chicken, you SHOULD realize that you have to cook it next. I'll be writing about this soon, I think.

I love looking at old recipe books. Some are a hoot. Some are so amazing. I love looking at old menus too.

Nice to see you back.

michelle said...

Hi Paz! I'm thankful to grandma too because I can make this bread!

Hi Anon! I'm trying to be better at posting - balance is something that oftentimes eludes me in this life! This truly is such a wonderful area and Oregon has so much to offer. I'm glad you're coming by; thanks for the encouragement!

Hi Julie! It truly is - I feel connected to her in a new way even though I was never able to meet her in person.

Hi Nerissa! Ha! I'm looking forward to your post. I agree - I may still be learning how to tie up my chickens (and I kind of have the heebie jeebies about jointing one) but at least I know when to wash my hands! I love old cooking stuff too - especially seeing the differennces in how things used to be done and how they are now. It's good to be back - thanks!

Kitchen Queen said...

Not knowing where in Colorado you baked it, I'm wondering if it's more altitude than humidity affecting your results. I recall having to adjust lots of baked items' recipes when I lived in the Rockies.

Anonymous said...

What a neat piece of history you have in these cookbooks, Michelle! It's so neat how food trends so encapsulate and describe an era. You can learn an awful lot about the society of the time. The roles of men and women... Oh I could go on but will not :) I have now added yet another recipe to my list of those have to make! The cake looks lovely and comforting.

ilva said...

I have tagged you! But only if you feel like it! (you blog toooooo little, maybe this will whip some better blog moral into you!)

michelle said...

KQ - hmmm...good point! I didn't think about that, but I bet you're right. It was probably a combination of both. My family lives in the desert in Colorado, so it's really dry too, and they're definitely higher than we are here!

Anna - so true! That's what was so interesting looking back through these old books and recipes - also seeing how "food trends" have changed; for instance, many of the hand-written recipes call for "oleo," not "shortening." Thanks for coming by!

Ilva - Blog moral?!! :) Aren't you cute! I've been trying to be better, so this will be a good "kick in the blogging pants," so to speak. Thanks for the tag!

Anonymous said...

Hi Michelle, I've never blogged before! I noticed vlb5757 mentioned missing her grandmother's date loaf candy. My grandmother used to make this as well, although she died in 1984. I'll include her recipe below. She used to make a cake that actually was kind of plain, but the filling and frosting had dates and coconut, and it was very rich. I've lost the recipe, and I wanted to make it for Christmas. Can anyone help? Thanks!

Ma's Date Candy

6 cups white sugar
2 cups (16 ounces) Pet evaporated milk *(This used to come in different sized cans - it takes a tall can and a half now)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
16 ounces dates, pitted and chopped
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups pecans, chopped

Wet two tea towels in cold water, wring out and leave in a ball in ice box while making candy. Mix sugar, milk and butter in a large heavy kettle. Cook on medium-high heat until it comes to a boil, stirring once in a while.

Turn heat to medium-low and cook, stirring all the time, to soft ball stage (when you can drip the syrup off the spoon into a cup of cold water and form it into a soft ball with your fingers). *This is 238 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Take off the burner and stir in dates and vanilla. Put back on the burner and bring to a boil, stirring all the time, to hard ball stage (when the dripped syrup forms a hard ball in cold water). *This is 248 degrees on a candy thermometer. Take off the burner and stir in nuts. Beat until stiff but not hard.

Spread out tea towels and divide candy into two batches on towels. Working fast, shape into logs. Wrap in wet towels and put in ice box to age until tomorrow. Use a sharp knife to cut it in slices to serve, but keep it in an airtight container or it gets hard as a rock, just like fudge. Keeps good in the freezer wrapped in foil for up to six months.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michelle, I've never blogged before! I noticed vlb5757 mentioned missing her grandmother's date loaf candy. My grandmother used to make this as well, although she died in 1984. I'll include her recipe below. She used to make a cake that actually was kind of plain, but the filling and frosting had dates and coconut, and it was very rich. I've lost the recipe, and I wanted to make it for Christmas. Can anyone help? Thanks!

Ma's Date Candy

6 cups white sugar
2 cups (16 ounces) Pet evaporated milk *(This used to come in different sized cans - it takes a tall can and a half now)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
16 ounces dates, pitted and chopped
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups pecans, chopped

Wet two tea towels in cold water, wring out and leave in a ball in ice box while making candy. Mix sugar, milk and butter in a large heavy kettle. Cook on medium-high heat until it comes to a boil, stirring once in a while.

Turn heat to medium-low and cook, stirring all the time, to soft ball stage (when you can drip the syrup off the spoon into a cup of cold water and form it into a soft ball with your fingers). *This is 238 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Take off the burner and stir in dates and vanilla. Put back on the burner and bring to a boil, stirring all the time, to hard ball stage (when the dripped syrup forms a hard ball in cold water). *This is 248 degrees on a candy thermometer. Take off the burner and stir in nuts. Beat until stiff but not hard.

Spread out tea towels and divide candy into two batches on towels. Working fast, shape into logs. Wrap in wet towels and put in ice box to age until tomorrow. Use a sharp knife to cut it in slices to serve, but keep it in an airtight container or it gets hard as a rock, just like fudge. Keeps good in the freezer wrapped in foil for up to six months.

Eugenia said...

Looks good! I have a great cookbook that looks similar called something like "cooking for invalids". What's the title of your book?

Michelle said...

Eugenia, Hi! Do you mean the cookbook in the picture? From what I can tell, it's called "Country Cooking." I tried finding it once online in used and rare and old book sites, but didn't have much success...