Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Apple Butter or Date Squares

These were always made with dates when I was growing up. I'm sure that anyone over a certain age - 40, say, or even 35 - has had these. Every comprehensive cookbook published in North America right up to 1970 was certain to have this recipe. You still see them in old-fashioned bakeries. They were called Haystacks in our family, from their similarity to the old rectangular bales of hay. (Our family were not much in the agricultural line, and our grasp on the terminology was a little vague.) For some unknown reason, they were also not uncommonly known as Matrimonial Cake.

It occurred to me that they could be made more Ontarian by replacing the dates with apple butter. I don't know why they weren't made with apple butter in the first place; but look through any old Ontario-published cookbook from the 1860's on to the 1940's, and by the number of recipes calling for dates, you would think that date palms waved their fronds in the breezes of Lake Erie. Besides being a local product, apple butter makes these absurdly quick and easy to put together, because it eliminates the necessity of cooking and cooling the date paste. If you want to make the date version, replace the apple butter with 1 cup chopped dried dates cooked to a paste with 1/2 cup water or orange juice, and cooled sufficiently to handle.

Makes 16 to 24 squares
45 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Apple Butter or Date Squares1 cup flour (I used a mix of brown rice, barley and arrowroot)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar
2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup butter

1 cup (250 ml) apple butter

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Mix the flour, soda, salt, Sucanat and oats in a mixing bowl. Cut the butter into 1" cubes, more or less, and toss them with the mixture, then rub it in until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. This will not stick together like a dough, nor should it. There should be no dry flour apparent, but the mixture will be crumbs.

Put half the mixture into an 8" square pan. Press it firmly and evenly over the bottom of the pan. Put in the apple butter and spread it evenly over the base layer.

Sprinkle the remaining half of the crumbs over the apple butter, trying it get it as even as you can right off the bat. The top layer must be pressed into place much more gently than the bottom layer, to avoid disturbing the apple butter. However, it too needs to be pressed firmly and evenly into place.

Once that is done, bake the squares at 350°F for 25 minutes, until golden brown. Allow them to cool completely before cutting them, with a wet, hot knife to avoid it getting too sticky.


Peter M said...

My mom used to make these and I loved for their taste & for being naturally sweet.

Hit Pay Dirt said...

There's not enough time in the day to try all your yummy-looking recipes! I love the idea of using apple butter as a replacement.

Kevin said...

Apple butter, dates and oats in bar form sound really good.