This is not actually my Uncle Vinnie’s recipe. I don’t know if he ever even made date squares.
It’s not my Grandma Gillespie’s recipe, either, but I can’t make these date squares without thinking about her, Vincent and my father. Date squares are one of Dad’s favorite treats, and Grandma G made good ones.
Dad was born in 1927, the fifth of seven boys. Vinnie was second in line, and one of three oldest who served in WWII. All three made it through the war.
My grandmother fed her seven sons through the Depression and war rationing, which I know could not have been easy.
Once during the War, with Uncle Vinnie due home on leave, Grandma saved up rations for baking to celebrate her son’s return. Date squares were baked and stored in the cupboard under the stairs for the occasion.
My father, a skinny teenager at the time, was drawn to that cupboard and just couldn’t help himself. He took one. And one more. And another.
When Vinnie arrived home and Grandma went to bring out the squares, there were none left. Dad had eaten the whole tray.
I can only imagine now how my grandmother might have reacted. The relief at seeing her son safe at home – however briefly – and the disappointment and frustration she must have felt when opening the cupboard to that empty tray.
My father now is 86 years old. Grandma and Uncle Vinnie passed away years ago.
My father is the last of those seven boys who lived through a time in which the world changed forever and this country became a nation.
This is not my Uncle Vinnie’s recipe, but when I make these date squares I think about him, my father and grandmother. About those stories told and those now lost.
- 2 cups chopped pitted dates
- 1 cup cold coffee
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- ¼ cup orange juice
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1-1/4 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup butter. melted
- ⅓ olive oil
- 1-1/4 cup rolled oats
- ½ cup brown sugar
- Lightly grease an 9x9-inch baking pan. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
- For the filling, combine dates, coffee, 2 tablespoons brown sugar. Bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer until dates are soft and can be mashed with a spoon (about 10 minutes). The mixture should be soft and spreadable, but still a bit runny. Don't overcook it, as the mixture will thicken when squares are baking.
- Remove from the heat and add lemon juice, orange juice and orange zest.
- Let mixture cool.
- For the base and crumb topping: Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda salt and ½ cup brown sugar.
- Stir in melted butter and olive oil. Mix until all of the flour is moistened.
- Stir in rolled oats and mix until crumbly.
- Press half of the mixture into prepared pan. Pat it down firmly in pan.
- Spread cooled date mixture evenly over bottom layer.
- Cover the dates with the remaining crumb mixture and press down lightly.
- Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned.
This was adapted from a recipe in Anne Lindsay’s Smart Cooking.