Who could have imagined the variations possible in date squares? Several of you sent your favorite date square recipe when I asked last week.
It was fun reading the responses, and to my surprise, two basic varieties emerged in the species date bar. One calls for an oatmeal, flour, butter and sugar crumble along with cooked, chopped dates; the other calls for a cake-like batter of flour, shortening, egg and sugar.
This week I’ll feature the crumble sort, but we’ll have the cake-like one in the not too distant future.
Why I ended up with as many dates in my kitchen as I have puzzles me a little because I am not wild about them. I suppose it was my pre-COVID pantry stocking, thinking this is wholesome food and good to have around. Or maybe at Christmas I waxed nostalgic about the nut-stuffed dates rolled in coconut that my mom used to make even though I didn’t really like them, either. Your recipes convinced me to give dates another try.
Arlene Wusterbarth provided an intriguing picture of her recipe, and wrote, “I’m sending you a recipe for date squares that one of my good friends from college shared with me. She served this to our small group of college alumnae who have gathered each year since we turned 60. Although I have not yet made this recipe (and I do enjoy baking), I can attest that the squares are delicious.”
The recipe was written on two pages torn from a 1941 edition of a “Silent Secretary” datebook with the name “Mrs. Joe Shea” and “excellent” written next to it. Recipes appearing like this on random scraps of paper always fascinate me. I envision friends sharing a cup of coffee in a kitchen somewhere with a little treat alongside, and one of them says, “These are so good, could I have the recipe?” And the other grabs her pen and a piece of paper and jots it down. It’s so evocative of friendship and sociability.
While I hardly speak from wide experience with date squares, I have to say they are really delicious. Not too sweet, a great chewiness and pretty darn easy to put together. I had pitted dates on hand, and I chopped them myself, but you could obtain the already pitted and chopped sort. The recipe calls for the juice of one lemon, and I added in the zest, too.
I ended up rubbing the butter, sugar, flour and oats together with my fingers, and when done it yielded five and half cups. The recipe said to use two-thirds of them, roughly three and two-thirds cups, pressed over the bottom of the 9-by-13-inch baking pan. That left about two cups plus to sprinkle over the top. Or you can just eyeball it. If you want to, you could make the bars a lot thicker by baking them in a small pan, say a 9-by-9-inch pan, and then just increase baking time by a few minutes.
I cut mine into 24 pieces, and watched while household members took two pieces each, which tells me that instead of a hoped-for 24 servings, it really makes 12.
A date bonus is in the works for Taste Buds. Instead of squares or bars, some of you readers sent along other wonderful things to do with dates that involve goat cheese, nuts, bacon or prosciutto. Stay tuned.
Mrs. Joe Shea’s Excellent Date Squares
Yields 12 servings
12 ounces pitted dates, chopped
½ cup water
½ cup sugar
Juice of one lemon
1½ cups oats
1½ cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup brown sugar
¾ cup or 1½ sticks of butter, cut up into tablespoon sized pieces
Put in a saucepan the dates, water and sugar, and cook for about 5 minutes.
Take off the heat, add the lemon juice and let it cool.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
Put the oats, flour, baking soda and brown sugar in a mixing bowl, toss all together, then add the butter pieces.
Rub the butter into the dry ingredients until it forms a crumbly mass.
Press evenly about 2/3 of the crumbs into the baking pan to form a bottom crust.
Spread the cooked date mixture evenly over the crumb crust.
Sprinkle the remaining crumbs over the top, patting them in lightly.
Bake for 25 minutes, until the mixture is lightly browned.
Remove and cut into squares whatever size you desire.