Today’s molded gelatin is a bit off the beaten path, but a perfect example of “the recipes that time forgot.” Honestly, this is why I do what I do.
I came across this little gem of a cookbook the other day while looking for something unusual and historic to do with dates. Dates are among my very favorite fruits/snacks so I almost always have some on hand!
This recipe book from 1929 is simply called Date Recipes and was published by Press of Coachella Valley Submarine. In case you’re wondering, the publisher is a newspaper, not an actual submarine.
May Sowles Metzler, the author, must have been the go-to resource for Coachella Valley California dates because she wrote/compiled at least two other books (both called Date Cook Book) in 1919 and 1921.
The preface of her 1919 book pretty much sums up how she feels about dates:
In flipping through the 1929 book I found a lot of interesting recipes I’d like to try. A couple pages near the middle are dedicated to traditional uses of dates in Arab cooking, and there are even little factoids and tips for working with dates scattered throughout in the footnotes. At times things get a bit cheesy with quotes, date-themed poetry and “recipes” like this one:
I don’t know about you, but I prefer my Home Happiness Bread to have a full cupful of justice.
Date Bavarian Cream
- 1 pint heavy/whipping cream
- 1 cup milk
- 1 envelope plain gelatin
- 1 cup ground pitted dates (Medjool are best)
The instructions are as simple as they usually are for basic gelatin dishes, but I had a couple minor issues come up. I was a little concerned about the dates especially, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
- Soak the gelatine in 1/2 cup of milk. Meanwhile, bring the other half to a boil. Careful not to scald it!
- Add the gelatin-milk and stir. I found after doing this twice that the milk just isn’t hot enough to get the gelatin to dissolve properly. Either use room-temperature milk, soak the gelatin in less milk or do what I did, which was heat it over low heat and stir until there are no gelatin clumps. Then let it cool.
- Hand-whip the whipping cream (you can also use a blender) and set it aside.
- Once the milk is cool, beat it a little and add the whipped cream and dates. If the milk is too hot the whipped cream will just melt, which is not what we’re going for.
- Mold and refrigerate 3-4 hours or overnight.
- Serve promptly after un-molding, with or without “whipped cream heaped around.”
Working with Dates
I knew going in that if I grind up dates I’ll end up with more of a paste, which will be a big sticky glob once I add it to the cold milk. This is exactly what happened, by the way.
To combat this, I attempted to find date sugar which is technically very finely ground dehydrated dates. I don’t think this is exactly what May Metzler had in mind, which is just as well because my local grocery store didn’t have any. So I dried out my dates a bit in the oven so they would hopefully be a little less sticky. This helped a little, but the dates would have to be pretty hard to grind up into a powder and I don’t think my food processor could handle that.
I dipped my food processor blade in hot water (a suggestion from the book) and ground up the dates until they stuck together. Although my ground dates still became a big clump, I was able to break it up into smaller chunks with a whisk. I did the best I could to distribute the date pieces somewhat evenly before pouring the mixture into the molds.
If you end up making this, don’t worry too much about the dates. Grind them up and whisk out the clumps and it should turn out just fine.
I don’t know how else to describe this other than vintage. It tastes like an antique store. If walking through the clothing section of an antique store could be made into a dessert, it would be Date Bavarian Cream.
In a much less abstract way, this reminds me a lot of cookies and cream. It would make an excellent flavor of ice cream or pudding. The first bite was a little underwhelming and strange, perhaps because it is not as sweet as the brain expects it to be. But every bite after that I began to like it more and more, especially with the whipped cream on the side.
Nobody here hated it, but not everyone loved it either. I, however, genuinely like it and I would probably make it again!