Tag Archives: potluck

Grandma’s Date Squares that Taste Like Home

The first time I tasted date squares I was about four years old and I absolutely hated them. But because they were at all of our family events, I eventually grew to love them, asking my grandmother to bake them for my eighth birthday.

To me, date squares taste like home. They’re sort of crunchy with the rolled oats on the outside, while date-filled centre is kind of gooey, especially when you warm them up.

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Because Newfoundland is an island, people didn’t always have the luxury of fresh fruit year-round, so canned fruits were always a hot commodity, and many traditional dishes here are made with dates. It was my mother’s mother, Grandma Morrissey, who taught me how to make date squares. I’d say I eat them once or twice a month, if I’m lucky, and at all family events, especially on my grandfather’s birthday. When I make them, I use homemade butter that my father’s mother, Dolores Tobin, taught me to make.

When my father was a child, my Nanny Tobin opened a creamery in Ship Cove, outside of Placentia. They started making butter and called it Spyglass Butter, as she would make prints on top with an old-fashioned wooden stamp shaped like a spyglass. My grandmother gave her kids shares in the creamery when they were young, and to earn their keep, she had them do things like watch the machines and churn the butter.

The photo on the butter label was of my great-aunt: Nanny Tobin’s mother’s sister. As a young girl, my great-aunt had a cream cow named Bessie, and it was her chore to make butter for the family. As she got older, she learned to make stamps of butter. She gave these stamped celebration butters to people for birthdays and holidays.

They were really, really good, so one day when Nanny Tobin was about my age, she asked her sister, “Can you teach me to make them, too?” Nanny said it was the hardest thing she’d ever done because the churning was all done manually, and she wasn’t used to that kind of work. When her aunt passed away, my grandmother continued to make the butter and started her company.

Nanny Tobin’s Spyglass Butter was eventually sold all over Newfoundland and in Ontario, too. The creamery grew so big that today it’s part of Central Dairies, and the butter is no longer made by hand.

Around Christmas, I go to my grandmother’s house where she has a big wooden bucket on the porch and we churn our own butter manually, just as she was taught by her aunt. For my date squares, I buy a lot of Spyglass Butter to bake them with, and that’s what makes them taste so good.

Grandma Morrissey’s Date Squares
Recipe courtesy of Caroline Tobin.

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Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 ¼ hours
Yield: 12 servings

Ingredients:
2 cups (500 mL) dates
1 cup (250 mL) hot water
1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar
1½ cups (375 mL) rolled oats
1 cup (250 mL) flour
¾ cup (175 mL) Spyglass Butter or other butter
1½ tsp (7 mL) baking soda
½ tsp (2 mL) salt

Directions:
1. In saucepan, combine dates, water and ½ cup (125 mL) of the brown sugar, then let simmer over medium heat until dates are mashable. Give them a stir to ensure the dates have fallen apart completely.
2. In a large bowl, mix together oats, flour, remaining brown sugar, butter, baking soda and salt until crumbly.
3. Divide oat mixture in half. Press half (or slightly more than half) into the bottom of an 8-inch glass baking dish. Spread the entire date mixture overtop, and crumble remaining oat mixture over top.
4. Bake at 350°F for just under 1 hour or until golden brown. Let cool and cut into squares.

Written by Caroline Tobin, as told to Valerie Howes

Caroline Tobin is a young teen living in Mount Pearl, N.L., near St. John’s. Date squares are one of her favourite things to bake because they bring together traditions from both her mother’s and her father’s sides of the family.

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Borscht: ‘My Family’s Version of Chicken Soup’

By Sam Yachiw, as told to Leslie Wu

Sam Yachiw shares her love of curling with local kids through the nonprofit Curl Saskatoon. At home, this fourth-generation Ukrainian-Canadian loves sharing a hearty bowl of her baba’s borscht with family and friends. In fact, Yachiw’s favourite way to explore her heritage is to navigate her grandparents’ dinner table, where some of her fondest memories take place.

Borscht was my family’s version of chicken soup, fed to us when we were sick or sad. I’ve had it since I was a toddler, and I’ve always liked its unique taste and that warm feeling with every mouthful. It would have been my great, great-grandmother who brought the recipe over from Ukraine. The core recipe is the same, but it’s been adapted and tweaked over the years.

With my baba [grandmother] and dido [grandfather], we make a big batch of this soup once a year: about 20 single-serving jars and a whole bunch of larger jars, which are distributed among the family. On borscht cooking day, we start early in the morning with the chopping. The whole process takes about two hours, or even three, depending on how much we’ve been talking. We’re usually done by noon, then we’ll heat up some fresh borscht for lunch. For most of the afternoon, we come together as family and just talk! We’re such a close-knit family, and I love it.

We sit down to share borscht as the second course at Ukrainian Easter. This holiday is different for every family, depending on how traditional you are. For us, it’s lunch after church, which turns into about four hours of feasting, then relaxing in a comfortable chair to chat with someone you may not have seen in many years. My grandparents know so many people I’ve never met in the 27 years I’ve been alive, so there’s always someone new at the kitchen or dining table. Last year, they hosted a lady who was in their wedding party more than 60 years ago.

Borscht has brought my baba and I together. Most of my memories of her are in the kitchen; it’s part of who she is, and she’s always been like that. My grandfather, on the other hand, doesn’t really do a lot of cooking, but he helps out. Any memory I’ve had, he’s been around helping, especially if it’s a bigger meal. My baba’s a social butterfly, so she loves to cook for people. It didn’t matter if we were just visiting for a day or a weekend, there were these amazing, extravagant meals. It’s something I learned from her, and I try to continue this tradition even now with my own friends; we all get together and celebrate, even if it’s just over an everyday meal. Food is one thing that brings everybody together—it doesn’t matter what culture you’re in.

Baba’s Borscht, courtesy of Sam Yachiw

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Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1½ hours
Yield: 10 to 12 servings

Ingredients
2 tsp (10 ml) salt
4 cups (1 L) beets, peeled and shredded
2 carrots, diced
1 large onion, chopped
1 large potato, diced
? cup (75 mL) diced celery
2 tbsp (30 mL) white vinegar
1 cup (250 mL) canned diced tomatoes
1 can tomato soup
1 tbsp (15 mL) fresh or frozen dill

Directions
1. Add salt to 8 cups (2 L) water. Cook peeled and shredded beets for 30 minutes.
2. Add carrots, onion, potato and celery; simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Add vinegar, tomatoes, tomato soup and dill; simmer for about 15 minutes. (Add peas and/or beans, if you like.) Cook until vegetables are tender. Serve with borscht.

Click to print, save or share this hearty borscht recipe.

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