Edith’s Oatmeal Date Nut Bread recipe is a nod to the popular date nut bread served at teas in the ’30s and at luncheonettes during the mid-century.
What is Date Nut Bread
Date nut bread recipes began to appear in the 1920’s and became so popular in the 1930’s that it was used to make tea sandwiches, says Jean Anderson in her book, The American Century Cookbook. Based on the number of recipes for date nut bread in my grandma’s recipe boxes as well as her Ladies Sewing Circle community cookbook, this recipe was indeed very popular through the mid-Century.
Even Pat Nixon, the First Lady of the United States from 1969 – 1974, had her version of Date Nut Bread that was featured in a 1961 column “Hints From Heloise.”
Each recipe varies slightly. Some use coffee or boiling water to soften the dates. Others dispense with that entirely. Some cream a fat and sugar together while others mix melted butter into the wet ingredients. They all, of course, have dates and nuts. Essentially, date nut bread is a quick bread with chopped dates and nuts mixed into a batter baked in a bread loaf pan and, as most of the recipes suggest, served with cream cheese or butter.
Date Nut Bread and Cream Cheese Sandwiches
And speaking of cream cheese, Jean Anderson goes on to say, “in fact, these tea sandwiches are so delicious you may want to try them. Take two thin slices…and sandwich them together with a layer of cream cheese.”
Now, if you ask someone from New York about these sandwiches, they will likely tell you stories of eating them as kids at the luncheonette at Chock Full o’ Nuts. As a matter of fact, in her book By Myself and Then Some, the then young-broke-model-turned actress Lauren Bacall, remembers eating these sandwiches, which cost 10 cents at the time, along with a 5 cent cup of coffee to “[get her] through the day.”
Edith’s Oatmeal Date Nut Bread with Buttermilk
Edith’s recipe for Oatmeal Date Nut Bread has a couple of differences from some of the other recipes in my collection. First, and most obviously, she includes oats. Second, the sugar is cut by half compared to other recipes. Based on both of these changes, I imagine that Edith was trying to make a more healthy version of the original date nut bread. Or it was during a time when rationing was taking place and sugar was scarce and oats were good fillers.
She also suggests that you bake it in a 9-inch square pan. I didn’t take this suggestion to heart. I like my bread in the shape of a loaf.
Edith’s recipe is leavened by the reaction between buttermilk and baking powder. Personally, I love the slight tangy flavor that buttermilk tends to the final product. I also like the thought that Edith most likely used “real” buttermilk that was left over from actually churning butter – much like my grandma would have done.
I have made a couple of changes to Edith’s original recipe. I hope she would approve and that you take Jean’s advise and give oatmeal date nut bread and cream cheese sandwiches a try.
- Heat oven to 350˚F. Spray loaf pan with baking spray and line with parchment paper, or grease with butter or shortening and dust with a spoonful of flour.
- In a large mixing bowl whisk together the flour, brown sugar, salt, and baking powder.
- In a separate bowl, use a fork to mix the buttermilk, egg, and melted butter until combined.
- Stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture.
- Gently fold in the oats, dates and the nuts.
- Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 45 - 55 minutes. If the top starts to get too dark, tent with aluminum foil to prevent burning. Remove from the oven; a toothpick or cake tester should come out clean when inserted into the center of the loaf. The internal temperature should be 200˚F.
- Allow the loaf to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, and then gently turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely before slicing.
- Serve with butter or cream cheese.
Recipe Box Roulette
This recipe is from a social media game we developed called Recipe Box Roulette. Find a family recipe box and play along.
The rules are simple. Let your fingers wander over the recipes cards in the box, draw one at random, share it with us on FB Page or on your Instagram Feed. Remember to tag @theheritagcookbookproject and use the hashtag #recipeboxroulette.
Extra credit – make the recipe and share a photograph.
Name of recipe and recipe box owner.