Crave the date: Grandma’s recipe stirs lost love for classic barsNot long ago, I received an email from a reader asking me if I had an excellent recipe for date bars. It had been ages since I’d thought of those classic sweet treats with a cookie-like mixture sandwiching soft, creamy date filling. I hadn’t even noticed that date bars seem to have gone out of fashion.
Not long ago, I received an email from a reader asking me if I had an excellent recipe for date bars. It had been ages since I’d thought of those classic sweet treats with a cookie-like mixture sandwiching soft, creamy date filling. I hadn’t even noticed that date bars seem to have gone out of fashion.
My dad loved oat-laden, crumbly-crusted date bars. Unfortunately, my mom never developed a liking for the rich treat. The recipe my grandmother used to create the dessert that made her son happy stayed tucked into my mom’s recipe file, never to see the light of day. Every once in a while, though, my mom would bring a box of Betty Crocker Date Bar Mix home from the grocery store. Maybe beloved Betty had something to do with the demise of date bars. Her date bar mix is no longer available in stores.
On our trips to visit relatives in Indiana, we always made a stop at my dad’s cousin’s house. She’d have a plate of date bars waiting for my dad. Her bars were not made from a mix – she used the family recipe.
I inherited my dad’s love of the fruit referred to as “nature’s candy.” I stir chopped dates into bran muffins rather than using the standard add-in, raisins. I’ve been known to pop a couple of pitted dates into my mouth as an exotic mid-afternoon snack. They satisfy my sweet tooth. For years, my car automatically steered off Interstate 94 at the Rothsay exit. A truck stop there served my favorite date-filled cookies. I’d buy a bag of them to eat in the car. The last time I stopped there, I discovered those cookies are no longer available, either. Out of fashion maybe?
Dates have been esteemed in Middle Eastern cultures for thousands of years. In California, where most of the dates in the United States are grown, the firm-fleshed fruit that demands lots of hot sunshine develops in clusters on date palm trees. Most common is the Deglet Noor, the kind you are most likely to find in the grocery store. The much larger and plump Medjool dates are also grown in California and if you are lucky, you will find some in the produce department in your grocery store.
Dates may be small, but they are a package of protein, fiber, minerals, antioxidants and vitamins. They are a low-fat snack with a high level of natural sugar.
The request for a date bar recipe sent me right to my file where I sorted through all kinds of directions for bars and cookies. I couldn’t find my grandmother’s recipe. Next stop was her tattered ledger filled with her hand-written recipes. And, there it was.
Her original recipe calls for shortening. I used butter. And I doubled the date filling.
With their natural sweetness, dates can be cooked with water until they reach a consistency similar to marmalade. When the mixture is cool, an addition of freshly-squeezed orange juice creates a delightful caramely filling.
The cookie-like mixture that envelopes jammy date filling is sweetened with brown sugar and gets texture from quick-cooking oats. Just out of the oven, the not-too-sweet bars get a sprinkling of ground toasted nuts. These Date Bars are easier to cut when they are cooled to room temperature. I couldn’t resist using my heart-shaped cookie cutter.
Grandmother’s Date Bars turn an exotic delicacy into a comfortable, satisfying, fashion-worthy dessert.
Sue Doeden is a food writer and photographer from Bemidji, Minn., and a former Fargo resident. Her columns are published in 10 Forum Communications newspapers.