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In the middle of this past holiday season, I was hit by a wave of nostalgia. Like novelist Marcel Proust and his madeleines, I connect many of my memories with food. In my case, I have a strong personal association with the dark days of winter and date-nut bread. Along with tons of cookies, my mother always had a couple of loaves at the ready. With a little sleuthing, I found her recipe.

Unlike the delicate madeleine, date-nut bread is a hardy wintertime treat. In times past, fresh fruit was not available year-round. For the Christmas season, home cooks turned to dried fruit, which was always in the pantry. The most notorious example is the Christmas fruitcake. Date-nut bread is a more modest version of the garish fruitcake.

Dates are tropical stone fruits from the date palm tree. Some scholars believe that it was a date rather than an apple that tempted Eve in the garden of Eden. The word “date” has its origin in the Greek word “daktulous,” which means “finger.” They grow in large bunches, with each date measuring 1-3 inches. Dates are naturally a very sweet fruit, and drying intensifies the sugar concentration.

Date-nut bread is a perfect midday snack on its own, but in its classic presentation, it is served slathered with cream cheese. Chock Full o’Nuts restaurants immortalized this combo with their famous date-nut bread sandwich.

The recipe below makes two large loaves. Date-nut loaf freezes well, so you’ll always have one on hand for unexpected guests.

Date-Nut Bread

2 cups coarsely chopped dates

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups boiling water

2 cups sugar

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)

2 beaten eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup chopped walnuts

31/2 cups flour

Grease and flour two large loaf pans.

Put the chopped dates, baking soda and salt into a small bowl. Pour in the 2 cups boiling water and let stand until cool.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Mix in the eggs, vanilla and chopped walnuts. Add the cooled date mixture and stir until combined. Add the flour and mix well. Divide the mixture between the loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until a tester comes out dry.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.

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