I wanted to share a recipe with you today for old fashioned date bars. This is the kind of recipe your grandmother would have made. My recipe comes handed down generation through generation.
It was my mother's maternal Aunt Orabelle's recipe and was probably my Great Grandmother Best's recipe. People have been baking these delicious date bars in my family for a very long time. No small wonder. They are delicious!
These have long been a family favorite. My mother always, always made them at Christmas. She never really baked any other time of the year.
It is something I used to bake for my own children. I small batched the recipe today because, now that I am on my own, I just don't need a big pan of date bars tempting me to dig in.
I think these are also called Matrimonial Bars. There are about a bazillion recipes for them out there in the world. This one is my family's recipe.
My Aunt Orabelle passed away when I was a young teenager, so you know this is not a copycat recipe, but a family recipe. I love family recipes. They are laced with history and feelings of love. Most come from a different era where every woman cooked and baked for her family, having been taught to do so at her mother's knee.
Aunt Orabelle was no different. She was my Grandmother Nina's oldest sister. She married a farmer on the South Mountain up in Inglisville, named Robie McGill. The old farm is still there as far as I know.
Uncle Robie used to keep an old white horse in the pasture next to the farm house. When we knew it, the horse was blind and could no longer see, but we used to love to feed it apples and carrots.
I am not sure how it knew we were there, but somehow it did and it would amble over to the fence and we would hold them out to the horse in our hands and it would take them from us and eat them, nickering gently while it did. It never bit us.
Aunt Orabelle also made great doughnuts. Mom said that in her later years her fingers were always burnt because when she was frying them, they would dip down into the hot fat. She had no feeling in them, so didn't know they were being burnt. (*cringe*)
She was already quite old when we used to go there, Uncle Robie was no longer with us. I just basically remember as a very old lady sitting in a rocking chair in the kitchen. We were banished outside to feed and talk to the horse.
Aunt Orabelle had dementia at that point in her life, which now that I think about it is kind of worrisome as her mother also had it when she passed as did my own mother. But we won't think about that.
These are the perfect date squares. There is nothing unusual here. Just simple old fashioned wholesome ingredients.
Oats and dates are the primary ingredients.
I always use the large flaked old fashioned rolled oats. Don't ever be tempted to use instant oats or any other kind. Only the large flaked oats will give you the perfect result.
Instant oats would just be all wrong. All wrong.
My Aunt and mother always used the block dates that came pitted and wrapped in plastic. They were very easy to cut down through the block into bits.
I use loose dates, usually organic Medjool, and I cut them into bits with kitchen scissors. I doubt very much that organic would have been available back then.
While I am at it, I want to draw your attention to this little piece of handiwork of my mothers. Its an old tea towel that she embroidered many, many years ago and gave to me.
It is the only piece of handiwork of hers that I have and I am so grateful that I had the forethought to stick it into my suitcase when I came back to Canada. It would have been lost otherwise.
Like me, my mother loved to embroider and there are quite a few bits of her work still around. This one is mine and I treasure it.
I always make the date filling first so that it can cool somewhat before I use it. Its as simple as simmering dates together with a tiny bit of brown sugar and some boiling water.
You might think it a very watery mix when you first start to cook them, but don't worry, the dates break down as they cook and it all thickens up very nicely.
I have seen people adding lemon or orange to the dates, but Aunt Orabelle never did and this is how we like them.
The oat crumble mixture for these bars is very simple. Flour, brown sugar, soda and salt are put into a bowl and then butter is rubbed into them, which gives you a crumbly mixture.
You then rub the old fashioned oats into the mix. The mixture will be quite crumbly.
About two thirds of the oat crumble gets packed into your prepared baking tin. I like to line my tin with baking paper, which makes it very easy to lift them out with later.
I always press the bottom layer down quite firmly. This is going to form your base and you don't want it falling apart.
The date mixture then gets spread evenly over top.
Once you've done that you simply crumble the remaining oat mixture over top. As evenly as you can. Its okay however if some areas have a bit more than others.
Oh boy, anticipation of the treat which lies ahead should have your tastebuds tingling right about now.
They don't take long to bake. Only about half an hour all told. You will want to leave them to cool completely in the pan.
In fact I like to chill them in the refrigerator so that I can cut them into neater squares. If you can resist them, leave them overnight.
If you have taken my tip and used baking paper, they are very easy to lift out of the pan to a cutting board. I know adding the paper is an extra little step, and not one my old Aunt would have used, although she may have used wax paper. My mom did.
Lifting them out to a cutting board to cut them into slices is the best option. They can be a bit crumbly and this way you will get a much neater slice.
They are knife and fork bars. At least I like to eat them with a knife and fork. I enjoy having a hot cuppa with them as well. Today it was Lemon & Ginger tea, Twinings. One of my favourites.
It went so well with these beautiful bars. I sat in my chair, sipping my tea and enjoying my bars, lifting up the crumbs with a wet finger so that I didn't mess one speck of their sweet, buttery and crumbly deliciousness.
Family recipes and memories are one of life's little pleasures and joys.
Classic Date Squares (small batch)
This is my Great Aunt Orabelle's recipe, handed down through the generations. Small batched for the smaller family to make only 8 delicious bars.
- 1 cups (156g) chopped pitted dates
- 1 TBS brown sugar
- 1/2 cup (120ml) boiling water
- 1/2 cup (70g) plain flour
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- pinch salt
- 6 TBS (95g) butter
- 1/2 cup (100g) packed light soft brown sugar
- 1 cup (80g) oats (not instant. I like the old fashioned large flaked oats)
- Pre-heat the oven to 350*F/180*C/gas mark 4. Lightly butter a 7- inch square baking tin, line with baking paper leaving an overhang, and set it aside.
- Put the dates into a saucepan along with the TBS of brown sugar and the boiling water. Bring the mixture to the boil and then simmer for about five minutes, until the dates are soft and smooth and most of the water has been absorbed. Mash with a fork and set aside.
- Put the flour, soda, salt and brown sugar into a large bowl and give them a good mix together. Rub in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the oats and give them a bit of a rub again to mix well. The mixture should stay quite crumbly.
- Put half of the crumbs into the prepared pan and press it down evenly. Spread the cooked date mixture evenly over top of it, then sprinkle the remaining crumbs evenly over top. Press them down very lightly to even them out.
- Bake in the heated oven for 25 minutes, until set and lightly browned. Remove from the oven to a wire rack to cook before cutting into squares to serve. (I leave them overnight, and then lift them out by the baking paper to a cutting board.)
Did you make this recipe?
Tag @marierayner5530 on instagram and hashtag it #marierayner5530
Created using The Recipes Generator
This content (written and photography) is the sole property of The English Kitchen. Any reposting or misuse is not permitted. If you are reading this elsewhere, please know that it is stolen content and you may report it to me at: mariealicejoan at aol dot com