The story of this date nut bread begins simply enough. I used to love date nut bread when I was a teenager. Heading into New York City from the suburbs on Saturdays for adventure often included a trip to Chock Full O’ Nuts for a date nut and cream cheese sandwich. And then came Mad Men.
The last season of Mad Men starts in just a little over a week. I’ve watched every single episode, which I guess qualifies me as a true fan. My son started me down this road, so I can either thank or chastise him for my addiction to the rollercoaster that is Mad Men.
In the beginning, I watched simply for the storylines and the characters. As the seasons progressed, I noticed the clothing styles, the attention to period detail, and the political references. Now, with the series drawing to a close, I find myself obsessed with The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook.
The book ties recipes into the series. The authors explain when each dish or drink appears and its context, both in the show and the period.
For a bloggers’ Mad Men finale party, I decided to make Date Nut Bread, which links to the Drapers twice. First, Betty makes it for Sally’s sixth birthday party in Season 1. Then, Don’s paramour, Sally’s teacher Suzanne Farrell, makes it for Don in Season 3.
For Peggy and Joan
But my date nut bread is for Peggy and Joan. The determined girl who wants to leave Brooklyn far behind and the office manager who has almost as many secrets as Don are the focus of my attention.
Yes, it’s ironic that I’m talking about food and recipes in connection with two of the women on the show who spent much more time strategizing how to get ahead in their careers than they did leafing through cookbooks.
And the irony is compounded by my own story. I resisted the stereotype that women belong in the kitchen just as Peggy, Joan, and even Megan did. Like them, I took my professional life seriously. However, I was a bit more “out front” than they were. As the only woman lawyer in a post-Mad Men law firm, I plastered an ERA sticker on my briefcase. By now I’ve relaxed quite a bit about stereotypes and how to challenge them. So I can live with the ironies, especially when food is involved. Hope you can too.
When they needed a quick bite to eat, Peggy and Joan might well have gone to Chock Full O’Nuts. It was the coffee shop that working “girls” in midtown New York flocked to for a good coffee and a cheap but delicious sandwich. The house specialty was date nut bread slathered with cream cheese.
In its heyday, the chain had 100 luncheonettes. There would have been one near Sterling Cooper, and its subsequent iterations, Sterling, Cooper, Draper, and Pryce, and Sterling, Cooper & Partners.
While Mad Men never showed Peggy and/or Joan eating a date nut bread and cream cheese sandwich at a lunch counter. Still, I know it would have happened. I can imagine it as clearly as I can see them rolling their eyes (only in the ladies’ room, of course) at the antics of the men with whom they have had to put up all these years.
Date nut bread was to the 1960s what cupcakes were to the last decade. Imagine a world without single origin chocolate. When artisan meant old (not fancy schmantzy) and instant coffee from a jar was perfectly acceptable. In that world, a slightly sweet dough that held together dried fruit and walnuts was a dinner dessert, a valued contribution to a bake sale, and sandwich bread.
Date Nut Bread
I adapted this version from the recipe in The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook. The authors of the book, in turn adapted their recipe from Pat Nixon’s recipe, printed in a 1961 Hints from Heloise column.
Retro Date Nut Bread
A throwback to the days of date nut bread and cream cheese at luncheonettes, this version is both delicious and pretty.
- 1 & 1/2 cups chopped dates 8 ounces
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature 1/2 stick, 2 ounces, or 1/8 pound
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
- 1/4 cup sugar (white)
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- 1 & 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a loaf pan and set aside.
Put the chopped dates and raisins in a bowl. Add the baking soda to 3/4 cup boiling water. Pour the water/baking soda mixture over the dried fruit and set the bowl aside.
Mix the butter and the sugars with the mixer for about 3 minutes on medium high speed until they are creamed together. Add the egg and vanilla.
Mix the flour into the batter until well combined. It starts to get stiff at this point. Then, add the dates, raisins. and nuts, as well as the liquid (water & baking soda) that the dried fruit was softening in. I added the solids first before pouring in the remaining water. You can do it all at once as long as you mix the batter until all the ingredients are well incorporated.
Spoon the mixture into the loaf pan and smooth it out. Bake the bread for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean. If the top appears to darken and look finished before the inside is fully baked, cover the top with foil so that it won’t burn.
Let the bread cool in the pan on a wire rack before unmolding it.
My loaf pan is a bit smaller than most - 7 & 1/2 inches long x 4 & 1/2 inches wide by 2 & 1/4 inches deep. The standard loaf pan is 9" x 5", or 8 1/2" x 4 1/2". Any of those sizes will work, keeping in mind that the smaller the loaf pan, the taller the bread.
You’ll find more great recipes and Mad Men trivia in the book. And don’t forget to check out the Virtual Mad Men Dinner Party Page.
The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook authors provided me and the giveaway winner each with a copy of the book. As always, all opinions expressed in the post are my own.