Date Squares

When I was a kid and had a craving for something sweet, I would climb up on the counter and start rifling through the cupboards. Once, way at the back, I found a solid dark brick with a scary “WARNING! May Contain Pits” written across the top. But what the heck was it? I flipped it over. Oh…dates! So, what can you make with dates?

recipe bookI dug out my mum’s cookbook, an incredible artifact that I still have today. The “All New” Purity Cook Book was published in 1967, but the first one came out in 1917! Every recipe has “Pre-Sifted PURITY All-Purpose Flour” listed as an ingredient and at the bottom of each spread are charming rotating slogans such as Purity Flour is vitamin-enriched for extra nutrition or Bake easier, bake better with Purity Pre-Sifted Flour.

cake I spent many an hour poring over the pages, and not surprisingly, the book eventually fell apart. But we carefully transferred the contents to a binder and despite my substantial, bordering-on-obsessive cookbook collection, it’s still my go-to for a few classics. (FYI, Whitecap re-released it a few years ago, so you can get yourself a copy if I’ve triggered some nostalgia.)

I used the dates to make Matrimonial Cake (a.k.a. Date Squares) that day, and it was goooooood (and pit free). I have whipped up many a batch since. No one I asked ever seemed to know where the name came from, so this time I did a little research. In the Prairies, the squares were given out as wedding favours. They may have evolved from a “Matrimony Cake,” an English tradition often served at East Coast weddings. With its solid pastry base, smooth filling (made of dried fruits, spices and breadcrumbs), and rough top, it was said to represent the complexities of marriage.

Whatever their origins, date squares are easy, delicious and comforting.

The other day, my son called me at work: “Hey, Mum. Can I make some chocolate chip cookies?” “Sure!” I said. “You know where the book is. Call me if you need anything.”


datesDate Squares (Matrimonial Cake)

This is the recipe from Old Faithful. I often double it and bake in a larger pan so I can use the entire brick. Don’t waste lovely Medjools on this recipe; the ones you find in the baking section will do just fine.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

date filling

  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup water

crumb mixture

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter (room temperature)
  • 1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  1. Combine dates,  1 tbsp brown sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until dates are soft enough to be mashed with a fork (about 5 minutes). The mixture should be the consistency of jam.
  2. In a large bowl, blend or sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter and then blend in 1 cup brown sugar and oats.
  3. Press half the crumb mixture into a greased 8×8 pan. Cover evenly with cooled date filling. Top with remaining mixture and pat until smooth.
  4. Bake in preheated 325°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until a light golden brown. Cool before cutting into squares.

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