We Love Date Oatmeal Bars
I got the basics of this recipe for date oatmeal bars from Mary Lou Houser of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I never met her, but her recipe was published in my now-dog-eared More with Less Cookbook. This book was commissioned by The Mennonite Central Committee in Akron, Pennsylvania as a response to world food needs, and published by Herald Press in 1976.
At the time, I was working at the Logos of Westwood, a Christian bookstore in Westwood, California, and I saw every new book that came in. Since I loved to cook and bake, and since I was interested in nutritious meals, I immediately had a look at this book.
Since most Americans eat way too much sugar, dessert recipes in this book try to use less sugar than you might find in other recipe books and more nutritious ingredients such as fruit, nuts, and oats. This recipe for date oatmeal bars has these characteristics. I have changed it to meet our family’s needs by using more whole grain, less salt, and real butter. I know butter is a saturated fat, but in the controversy between the use of butter and margarine, I believe butter is less harmful. Use margarine if you believe it’s healthier.
These Products Are Handy to Have Before You Making the Date Oatmeal Bars
Most cooks have the bare essentials for baking around the house. However, if you started cooking and baking a long time ago, as I did, you may owe it to yourself to update or replace some of them. I like to go for quality that lasts.
I am still using the set of Farberware saucepans I got for my wedding shower 53 years ago. They wear so wear I’ve never had a need to replace them. I use the two and three quart pans the most. The two-quart pan is just right for cooking the dates in this recipe. You see a different pan in my pictures because I was working in a different house with my mother’s pans the day I made this batch.
The lasagna pan is 10 x 14 inches. I use it for shallow casseroles, and any kind of bar cookies. I’ve been using mine, which is plain aluminum, for close to fifty years. I don’t like to use a non-stick bottom for pans where I will do a lot of cutting. If you use a smaller pan for this recipe, your bar cookies will be smaller and thicker than mine, or you won’t get as many.
You will need a sturdy mixing bowl for blending the butter and sugar and them cutting into crumbs. I use a Pyrex® glass one from a vintage set I also got as a shower present. It’s a bit shocking to see it in antique stores now. The bowls below will also do the job. I really like the set. It’s stainless steel, so it’s light. The bowls have flat non-slip bottoms and pour spouts, and the insides have measuring marks.
Farberware Classic Stainless Steel 2-Quart Covered SaucepanPyrex Prepware 4-Quart Rimmed Mixing Bowl, ClearThreshold 10 X 14 Lasagna PanChef Essential Stainless Steel Non-Slip Mixing Bowls Set with Handles and Pour Spouts, Set of 3, BlackDecker Kitchenware Kitchen Professional Ergonomic Baking Dough Blender – Stainless Steel Pastry Cutter – Round Hand Dough Blender with Blades for Your Kitchen CollectionParty Essentials Hard Plastic 12 x 18-Inch Rectangular Diamond Cut Serving Tray, Crystal Clear, Single Unit
If you don’t have a pastry blender you love, or if you’re still using a fork, do yourself a favor and get the professional hand dough blender above. It makes every thing much easier if you have the right tools for the job. Cheap pastry blenders don’t cut cleanly and the ones with wire blades bend when facing cold butter. It would be a great shower gift for someone setting up housekeeping.
Ingredients for Date Oatmeal Bars
- 3 cups pitted dates, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed into measuring cups
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup all purpose flour, loosely spooned into measuring cup
- 3/4 cup whole wheat flour, loosely spooned into measuring cup
- 1 1/2 cup rolled oats, not quick-cooking
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, level
What to Do with the Ingredients
1. Chop the dates in any way you find efficient. I cut mine up with scissors. I almost got a blister because they didn’t fit my hand as well as the kitchen scissors I normally use. I would have saved time had I used the food processor, but I didn’t have one where I was baking these.
2. Combine water and chopped dates in 2-quart saucepan. I used a non-stick pan here. Cook over low heat ( use level 4 on an electric range) until it boils and becomes thick enough not to be watery. See picture and video. Stir often so the bottom won’t burn. When it’s thick, put it aside to cool.
3. Measure brown sugar by packing it firmly into measuring cups. When you put it in the bowl, you should still see the shape of the cups, as in the picture below.
4. Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Be sure to measure flours loosely instead of packing it down in the measuring cups. So far here I’ve added the butter and brown sugar.
5. When all the ingredients are in the bowl, mix well with a wooden spoon.
6. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
7. Cut the chunks of butter (and brown sugar if it was hard) with a knife and fork. I couldn’t demonstrate this because it took two hands and I didn’t have anyone with me to help do a video. I use the knife and fork like scissors, crisscrossing them through the mixture to make the chunks small enough to blend with the other ingredients. The fork can be pressed down on the chunks, and then wiped off with the knife when needed. When the chunks are small enough, I use a pastry blender for the rest of the job, continuing to wipe the tines with a knife when they become covered with butter. I also keep turning the bowl as I blend and bringing more loose flour and oats into contact with the ingredients that are clumped together. You have finished the blending when the mixture is like a lot of large crumbs. See pictures and video.
8. Grease a 9″ by 13″ pan. I used the butter wrapper I had saved after putting the butter in the bowl. You can also spray the pan with Pam or a similar product if you wish.
9. By the time you do all this, the date mixture should have cooled enough so nothing drips when you raise a spoonful from the pan and slant it. See video.
10. Spread half the crumb mixture in the bottom of the greased pan and press firmly.
11. Spread cooled date mixture over the layer of crumb mixture. Try to leave about 1/4 inch margin at edges of the pan, since baking will spread this.
12. Sprinkle the rest of the crumb mixture over the date mixture and lightly pat down. Be careful not to press hard enough to poke through to the date filling.
13. Put the pan in the preheated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly brown on top.14. When done, cool on a rack. Cut into 32 bars. Enjoy.
Put on a decorative serving plate or platter and you’re ready for a party. Enjoy.
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