17 December 2011

It's a date...

I love dates.  Sooner or later if a recipe calls for raisins or cranberries, I'll substitute chopped dates.  I clip or copy any recipe that calls for dates.  My Gran Oma Cummings did the same.  One of her special Christmas goodies was "date nut loaf."  Sounds like it's bread; but it's candy.  The nut is the pecan--favorite nut of all Texans and used in lieu of walnuts in most recipes.  It's cooked pretty much like any candy then dumped out onto a clean, cold, wet dishtowel and shaped and rolled into a log or "loaf" about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and, after it's cooled, sliced about a quarter of inch thick.

My mother has made date nut loaf for more decades than I've lived.  Her mother, my Grandma Mary Bridgett Wieland also made date nut loaf. It's a Texas tradition. 

Mother made several candies every year for Christmas.  Date Nut Loaf was the first and the favorite of my sister and me.  Daddy's favorite, too.  Other favorites are Boston Cream Candy, Peanut Brittle, Peanut Pattie, Fudge, and some awful peanut butter cocoa thing that Mother always tries to trick me into tasting.  I don't like peanut butter; I've never liked peanut butter; I may even be allergic to peanut butter.  If Reese's Cups were the only candy in the world, I'd never eat another bite.

This year Mother decided she wasn't up to making candy and delegated the Christmas chore.    My brother makes Boston Cream.  He also makes Grandma's teacakes.  Two years ago Mother supervised my making date nut loaf in her kitchen during an early December visit when she wasn't feeling very well.  (I've noticed that our visits are improved when I let her teach me things.)  Two batches of perfect candy!  I tried a couple of batches in my own kitchen last year which didn't come out well--one was sticky and the other was grainy and obviously overcooked--so I'm a bit nervous because this year I'm on my own.  I'm even more nervous because I've been unable to find the recipe with all my notes.  It was either lost in the computer disaster of last January or is buried in one of my file folders of recipes which never quite manage to be organized into a cookbook.

So here follow 2 recipes: first, the old-fashioned stove top version like Mother and Gran and Grandma made and second, the microwave version which I made this afternoon.

Classic Texas Date Nut Loaf (Candy)
2 cups sugar                    1 cup milk 
8oz dates (chopped)        1 cup chopped pecans 
1 Tablespoon butter        1 teaspoon vanilla.

In a heavy saucepan (Mother always uses a heavy aluminum pot which has been missing a handle for decades--I think that pot is part of her magic.  I'm always in danger of scorching the milk.) combine sugar and milk.  Stir over low heat, not letting it boil, until sugar is dissolved.  Turn up the heat to medium and bring to a boil.  Add the chopped dates and continue to boil until it comes to the soft ball stage.  (Mother can tell by looking but uses the drop a bit into a cup of cold water test.)  Remove from heat.  Stir in the butter, vanilla, and pecans.  Cool a bit.  Divide into 2 batches and dump each out onto a cold, wet dishtowel.  Shape and roll into a loaf.  Cool completely. Unroll from the towel, transfer to a cutting board and slice.  Layer into a tin, separating layers with wax paper.  "Keeps a couple of weeks if you can keep from eating it."  May be frozen either before or after slicing.

I read dozens of recipes.  Some use evaporated milk which causes me to suspect that cream might have been used in the days of home dairies.  I suspect that the increased fat in the cream would make a smoother, richer candy.  And since I'm pretty frustrated by my attempts at stove-top candy making, I thought I'd try a microwave version.

K's Date Nut Loaf (Candy) Microwave

2 cups sugar                  1 cup heavy whipping cream
8 oz. dates (chopped)   1 cup chopped pecans
1Tablespoon butter       1 teaspoon vanilla

In a 4-quart microwave-safe glass bowl, mix together sugar and cream.
Microwave, on high and uncovered, for 4 minutes.  Watch to be sure it doesn't boil over. Stir and scrape the sides of the bowl to dissolve sugar.  Check the temperature with a candy thermometer--they make them for use in a microwave but I don't have one.  I just stuck in my instant thermometer when I wanted to check.
Return to the microwave for another 4 - 6 minutes--stirring to prevent boil over--until the mixture reaches 235 degrees F. which is that soft ball stage.  (It took only an additional 5 minutes for my batch.) check out the candy temperature chart
Stir in the dates.  Return to the microwave for another 2 - 2 1/2 minutes, stirring at least once. (It took just under 2 minutes.  My candy thermometer read 240 degrees.)  The dates had softened and begun to dissolve into the candy mixture.
Remove from the microwave and add the butter, vanilla, and pecans.  Mix well.
Let stand to cool until lukewarm.  Then beat, beat, beat by hand for about 5 minutes.  (Hard work for us electric mixer cooks.) .  The candy will thicken (kind of fudgey) and change color a bit.
Pour half the mixture onto wax paper (I used that  clean, cold, wet tea towel for half and didn't think it worked as well) and shape and roll into a loaf.
Repeat with the other half of the mixture.  Yields 2 rolls, each about 9 inches long.
Allow candy to cool and harden for 4-6 hours.  May refrigerate to speed the process.
Unroll towel or wax paper and slice.

Perfect date nut loaf candy.  Yummy!  And since I've posted the recipe on-line, I can't lose it.


Anonymous said...

Sarah via facebook: yummy!
I wonder if dried cherries would work?

K Cummings Pipes said...

Maybe. Dates are a bit moister so I might soak them first in Grand Mariner. Kelvin addes cherries the his Boston Cream Candy one year, I think

Anonymous said...

My mother made this in Oklahoma! I got to help from when I was about 10, usually stirring the pot while she mixed something else. We never had a thermometer; she used the soft ball test. And it was dumped out onto a wet flour- sack dish towel, rolled up and put in the refrigerator. When I was married, I asked her for the recipe. She sent me the Joy of Cooking cookbook. Hers was green-covered, fallng apart from having been used as a booster seat at the table by 4 or 5 children.
Mary Ann Baker

Anonymous said...

Cathey Roberts via facebook:
Thanks for reminding me! Have not had this in years and always loved it as a kid

AM said...

I exclusively use your banana bread recipe from the old SWC cookbook.

These have to be tastey!

Anonymous said...

My grandmother made this every year. It brings back such wonderful memories. I love it! Thanks for posting it! Rose Cathy

Anonymous said...

I can trace this back to the early 60's. My great grandmother made it every Christmas and it has always been my favorite Christmas candy. My mom took over when Grandma got too old and now it's my turn to continue the tradition. We Texans love our pecans and this is the perfect vehicle to show them off. Merry Christmas baking everyone!