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So Many Dates! : Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

Post contributed by Lucy VanderKamp, Stacks Manager (Library Associate for Research Services)

Cover of Foods from Suny Lands, feautring a man in the foreground wearing a head covering and carrying a large basket of dates, behind him are two camels, a palm tree, and a boat on a canal.

I came across this 1925 cookbook – Foods from Sunny Lands – and it struck a chord: I had just made a date and nut bar to keep me eating healthy snacks. It seems we may not be the only household requiring gummy bears to fill some sort of stay-at-home-related need for sugary, fruity, chewy wads (out of stock on Amazon!). Dates could be a good alternative!

As may be expected from an American cookbook from 1925, this book depicts people of color one-dimensionally and seems to romanticize and exoticize Middle Eastern culture and foods.

The authors also make many grandiose claims about health and diet. There are a couple statements that seem imminently modern, though! This from page 12: “If we were to reduce our quota of white bread, cane sugar, candy and often too generous meat ration… substituting more green vegetables and sun-ripened fruits… we should pay the doctor and dentist a great deal less.” Same story 100 years later!Page opening from the cookbook, it is illustrated with images of Middle Eastern workers loading crates onto or off of a boat. .

On to the recipes! I tried the three below thinking I’d only have to “cut small” pieces of dates one time. I also felt the need for muffins and two types of cookies – don’t ask me why.

Rich Date Muffins

Recipe for Rich Date Muffins

For the muffins, I opted to not use 4 teaspoons of baking powder. I bake muffins often and none of my recipes call for anywhere near this amount. Maybe there was something different about baking powder 100 years ago? I went with 2 teaspoons. Also, I added one mashed banana for some additional sweetness (2 tablespoons of sugar isn’t very much!). These turned out fine, a little doughy, not what I would call “rich,” but fine.

Photo of the interior of one of the date muffins

Date Crisps

Recipe for Date Crisps

The crisps turned out tasty but definitely not “crisp.” I even tried letting a few get very dark to see if they’d crisp up. They didn’t.

The dough was super hard to work with, too. I tried chilling it for 20 minutes to see if it’d be less wet but that didn’t really help. I added a ton of flour to keep it from sticking during the rolling out but I wasn’t able to get it very thin. Maybe ¼ inch. They also needed to cook about twice as long as the recipe said. Maybe because they were too thick? Oh and also, it’s hard to cut out rounds when there are chunks of dates in the cookies! But I might recommend these. Very sweet and a nice soft texture.

Collage showing a not-so crispy crisp on the left and eight crisps from above on the right, they look a little like chocolate chip cookies


Date and Nut Meringue

Date and Nut Meringue Recipe

And the meringues… these turned out good! I used ½ cup chopped dates as I didn’t know what “½ package” would’ve been. Also, I’ve made meringues a couple times and had usually left them to cool in the oven so I did that. I took them out after about 20-30 minutes in the turned-off oven.

Cooked meringues on parchment paper

A few things I learned as a result of this cookbook:

    1. This Hills Brothers Company (think cans of terrible coffee) created Dromedary Food Products in the early 1900s.
    2. Dromedary is the word for Arabian Camel.
    3. One of the main factors in the success of Dromedary Food Products was an effort to alter the American consumer’s view of “packaged food.” Prior to this, when fresh food was wrapped up in a package it was because it was damaged, unattractive, or slightly old. The advertising campaigns for Dromedary focused on the usefulness of varying sizes of packages and the freshness they provided.
    4. Dates were touted as a good source of “lime” on page 4 of this cookbook by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg – famous corn flakes inventor also known for his pro-Eugenics views and for running a tuberculosis sanitarium. Lime starvation was noted as a harbinger to or result of tuberculosis.

Back cover of the cookbook with an illustrated ad for Dromedary products including figs, coconut, and dates.

5 thoughts on “So Many Dates! : Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen”

  1. I enjoyed reading about your experiments with these recipes. The artwork of the food packages is also a visual treat!

  2. I love the idea of a 100 year test kitchen. Esp the insights into the way diet reflects the colonial narrative.
    Great idea!

  3. Yes, thanks for sharing this! The artwork, lovely. The historical perspective always interesting. A few thoughts: I make an Irish scone which calls for 1 Tablespoon Baking Soda, yes, different from what we’re used to, but it works. Also, our flour is not the same. I can tell you that I could tell when things changed in the 70’s. The same bread recipe I made before . . . didn’t quite come out the same after that. But it’s still fun to read these, and now I’m interested in trying the meringues.

  4. I love dates. I make always keep a container of pitted ones in my pantry for snacks by themselves or hors d’oeuvres stuffed with a little goat cheese and sometimes wrapped in bacon. I’ve never thought about putting them in a muffin. Did you have an issue with them sinking to the bottom? They are so dense I would have thought that might be an issue. My favorite use for dates is from one of my grandmother’s recipe cards – Date Nut Balls. There are variations on the web now, but hers used brown sugar, Rice Krispies, pecans and coconut with the dates and then they were rolled in 10x sugar. No baking, no eggs, and no dairy, and you can buy gluten free Rice Krispies now for those with the allergy or preference. We make them during the holidays and they are a nice alternative to chocolate for someone with a sweet tooth and quite delicious. Thanks for sharing the recipes above. I may have to try those muffins! (That artwork is also fantastic!)

  5. Every time there is a post from the Library, I want to thank David Rubenstein for his support to such a critical part of the University. We are fortunate to have such a significant benefactor for the place, and I am grateful every day for the resources he has provided to Duke. It’s pretty amazing.

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