Last week’s cocktail post mentioned a resolution to school myself in basic mixology and part of that goal will be sharing progress here. But in keeping with the title of this blog, food must also star. In that vein, my plan for the year (subject to change, of course–let’s not pin me down 😉 ) is to alternate Cocktail U posts with another recipe project I’ve long wanted to tackle: Great-aunt Helen’s recipe box.
My mom’s Aunt Helen, who passed away 10 years ago at age 92, was an independent, strong women before being an independent, strong woman was something to aspire to. She never married, instead focusing on travel (camping especially) and her career as a social worker. Helen’s house, in an old Minneapolis neighborhood, was small but every corner had a purpose. The coffee table with the travel souvenirs, the wicker toy basket that now sits in my basement holding my girls’ playthings, the creaky steps we were never to climb as they led to an upstairs apartment she rented out. And the kitchen: sink, refrigerator, stove, table, a chair or two, and a few cupboards. These basics took up every inch of space.
But a small kitchen was common back then and didn’t stop Great-aunt Helen from cooking. Though she mostly made meals only for herself when I knew her, she had multiple recipe boxes that I’ve since inherited. They sit on my shelf and I’ll occasionally flip through, her handwriting reminding me of the sometimes curt but always generous Great-aunt Helen I knew.
Even with all of her recipes in my possession, the only foods I connect directly to Great-aunt Helen are her paper-thin sugar cookies and the from-scratch hot chocolate she’d stir in a metal pan on that rickety stove. Both were divine. It seems odd, then, that I’ve yet to dig deeper into her recipe boxes. The time has come to change that. Alternating with the cocktail posts will be Great-aunt Helen’s recipes. Food and drink, covered.
Helen’s recipes are vintage 50s and 60s–frugal, basic. As I flip through her recipe cards, I’m drawn more to the cookies and cakes, but I’ll try to make the savory, too. (Though no promises on those calling for canned creamed soups–a girl has to have her standards.)
Today’s recipe had to be Helen’s date bread as it was easy to pull together quickly from what I had on hand.It makes a lovely loaf–ideal for breakfast, snack, and dessert. Spread peanut butter over it and lunch can also be had.Creative types can mix in citrus zest, shredded coconut, nuts, chocolate, and the like, but I wanted my first date with this date bread to be true to Great-aunt Helen’s intentions. (That said, I did sprinkle the unbaked loaf generously with espresso sugar.) It seems the perfect start for this series as it makes a no-nonsense loaf that’s filling and practical, while also being generous and just a wee bit extravagant.Great-Aunt Helen’s Date Bread
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup egg, beaten
- 1/4 cup butter, cut into small pieces
- 1/2 cup chopped dates
Heat oven to 350ºF. Coat 9×5-inch bread pan with cooking spray.
In large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In glass measure, combine milk and egg.
Cut butter into dry ingredients until incorporated. Add milk mixture; stir just to blend. Stir in dates. Transfer batter to pan. Bake 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted into center of loaf comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.