Bake Club: Grandma’s Squares

Last week I told you about the recipe my aunty gave me. The date square that my grandma used to make. I made it Saturday and it tastes EXACTLY like I remember it. which is a giant relief. It is so disappointing when things from your childhood aren’t like you remember. I tried the square at room temperature and honestly, I prefer them frozen, so I cut them into small pieces and stuffed them into my full and nearly bursting freezer.

The first thing I did was preheat my oven to 350F and chop a pound of dates.

I pulled out the vintage Pyrex bowls from my parent’s wedding gift stash and I creamed together 1 cup of granulated white sugar and 3 tbsp of salted butter. I did this by hand because I remember my grandma doing it that way. I added 3 egg yolks one at a time, beating in between the addition of each yolk.

I added the pound of chopped dates and 1 cup of chopped pecans. Stirring this was hard. I remember Grandma’s hands shaking and thinking she was weak. Sorry Gran, I take that back. It was hard.

I sifted together 1 cup of unbleached AP flour, 1 tsp of baking powder, and 1/4 tsp of salt. I then added it to the mix and stirred it up.

Then I whipped up the egg whites and vanilla until it reached ‘stiff peak’ stage.

I tried to be gentle when folding them in, but honestly, it was hard, so they were forced into the mix. Do what you can, I won’t judge.

It said to pour into a shallow greased pan. It didn’t say what size, but I found a 9 x 13 was the perfect size. I used the back of a measuring cup to smash it down, it wasn’t pourable or spreadable.

I baked it for 25 minutes and it turned out perfectly. The instructions say and I quote “DO NOT OVER BAKE” So I didn’t.

At this point you could cut it up, sprinkling icing sugar over it or leave as is because of the dates, it is very sweet. But not my grandma…. she would make pink buttercream frosting. I think it was intended to be red for Christmas and it would end up being hot pink. I am not okay with food dye but I made an exception this time. Only I made a soft pink frosting by creaming together 1/2 cup of salted butter, 2 cups of icing sugar and 3 tsp of cream.

I am surprised I loved these as a kid with all the dates and nuts. But the hook for me was the frosting. I love the stuff. In hindsight, it kind of tasted like butter tarts, Canada’s favourite sweet. I followed the recipe the way I remember helping Grandma do it. Right down to the beater. I didn’t offer it up to anyone because it was my job to lick it clean.

I did it right Grandma! It tasted they way it was supposed to – better frozen and I did my job. Love you and miss you. Thanks for the squares.

Vintage Recipes

June 1917 Good Housekeeping Magazine Cover

I am OBSESSED with vintage cookbooks and recipes. YouTube has a great selection of cooks trying out these recipes. My favourite part is the lack of direction. There is an assumption of the recipe that you know your way around the kitchen so you don’t need to be insulted by overly complicated directions. I find it hilarious when the host is making something and says ‘huh…I guess we are making the cheese!’ Then they proceed to make cheese from scratch because the recipe called for it.

My favourite recipes are from an era that I think my grandmothers may have tried. Somewhere around 1940 – 1949 because it predates Crisco salads or soup casseroles and the focus is on baking. There is a great selection of cookbooks from communities and flour companies in Canada, more specifically, Five Roses Flour and Robin Hood Flour. I remember my grandma looking at the Robin Hood cookbook, pulling a chair to the counter for me to stand on so I could ‘help’. My job consisted of dumping pre-measured ingredients into the mixing bowl and being the official taster. I am sure this is how I became a baker with my mom, grandmas and aunties letting me help. I did the same with my kids, nieces and nephews. Even now, my son needs to be the official batter taster and beater licker, he is 24.

Last night while I was watching the Eco Challenge, I was reminded of a square my grandmother used to make. <the name of this recipe is inherently racist, so I don’t want to use it, and I am changing the name to Grandma’s squares for my family’s reference but will footnote the history> I messaged my aunties and one looked in her Watkins 1943 cookbook – nope. My other aunty had it in her recipe collection because she still makes it. SCORE! I used to sneak into the freezer and steal a square. I thought they were best frozen. Grandma always frosted them with a bright pink buttercream.

I did a little research and discovered the recipe origin is from 1917 Good Housekeeping. < CT warning: If you click on the link to get the recipe, you will see the racial slur.> My Grandmother wasn’t born yet but her mother would have been 28. Conceivably, that is how my grandmother came by the recipe or it could have been reprinted in a later version of Good Housekeeping or in a Catholic Women’s League cookbook. I am very happy to have this in my family recipe collection.

I started a recipe book this summer. It is a collection of family favourite recipes that I make. The intent is to not lose recipes the our family loves and a reference for my kids for when they have their own families or even just want to make comfort food for themselves. When I began this project, my son loved the idea and gave me a list of recipes that are his favourite. Honestly, I didn’t even consider adding some of the food he wanted. His list included pizza crust, Yorkshire pudding, chocolate chip cookies and the rolls I make at Christmas. These are recipes that I make without thinking and it didn’t occur to me I needed to add them. The hubs sourced his mom’s infamous pickled onion recipe we both thought needed to be written down. My mom makes the best scrambled eggs that my daughter can recreate, her brother wanted that recipe. We need to get her oatmeal cookie, magic bar and leftover turkey casserole recipes too. I am also collecting recipes from my grandmothers that I loved like Lassie Coos – the family name for soft sparkly ginger cookies or GP’s turkey soup. Thinking about future generations trying these recipes and reading them in my handwriting is an important part of this. As I think of a recipe to include, I add it to the index with page number. I find myself flipping through this book because everything is in one place rather that the copious amount of cook books or random slips of paper I have.

I am sure as time moves forward I will remember other recipes I need to add, like mom’s turkey gravy, her baked ham and her sister’s scalloped potatoes. I like to think of this as the never completed family recipe book. I have to say, this has been one of the more meaningful projects I have worked on during the pandemic. What are some of you family favourites? Maybe you should send them to me so I can try them out here and share them with this community. I think this weekend I am giving Grandma’s Squares a bake – I will report back to see if they are as good as I remember.