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Date and Nut loaf, often referred to simply as nut loaf, is a recipe bound up in various traditions such as the shape, the appearance and how it should be eaten. I really love it, but you don’t see them too often these days. That could be because it’s quite a while since I have had school-age children, and an even longer time since I had any involvement with a church, because nut loaves are the stuff that cake stalls are made of.

Nut loaf also seems to be somewhat unique in having it’s own dedicated cake tin – those tubular tins roughly 75mm in diameter and 200mm long with a cap that goes on each end, and which of course produce a cylindrical cake. I have no idea why nut loaves are made in these tins, other than tradition, and although I can’t see any reason why you couldn’t make other cakes in these tins it just seems to be not the done thing. Equally it seems making nut loaves in shapes other than cylinders might be frowned upon, but feel free to make this cake in a normal loaf tin if you’re so inclined. Nut loaf tins are still available – I’ve had mine for a while and from memory it was pretty cheap, so I would encourage getting one or two and not bucking tradition. If you happen to be rummaging around the op-shop and find one of the vintage Willow brand nut loaf tins grab it. Ms Onion says their old family friend used to make them in tin cans when she was a kid, which would be another option although those would necessarily turn out fairly small. If you do choose to make it in a genuine nut loaf tin, don’t fill the tin more than about 23 to 34 full or it will bust out.

datenutloaf1 Cooked in a groovy tubular tin.

When I first thought about making one of these I grabbed a recipe off the internet but it wasn’t very satisfactory. Part of that may have been that I tried to make a low sugar version by substituting a sweetener, but nut loaf is one of those recipes that really needs the full complement of brown sugar to get that dark brown look and traditional flavour. I subsequently explored my recipe books in more detail and of course found what I was looking for in my copy of “The Golden Wattle”1. Possibly not as well known in other states as it is in Western Australia where I grew up, the Golden Wattle has been in continuous print since the first edition in 1926. The original authors were ‘Officers of the Education Department, Western Australia’, and in a delightful reflection of its age says it was compiled;

with the following objects in view:-

  1. To place before young students a record of methods of cookery taught at school; supplementing lessons given from foundation recipes, and generally increasing their knowledge of the subject.
  2. To enable girls who have left school to maintain their interest in cookery, and to have in their possession a book of dependable recipes which may stimulate a desire to venture further in the culinary art.
  3. To give, in a concise and simple form, information on food values and the cooking of food.
  4. To set before those taking up life in rural districts of the State simple directions for bread-making, jam and jelly making and fruit preserving, which will secure success at the outset.1

My sister gave me my copy, a 1999 edition, when I mentioned I didn’t have one. My Mum had one that dated from probably somewhere around the end of World War II, but it had been so well loved that it was really beyond repair so I don’t have it, and my Grandma had an even earlier version that was apparently in good condition but I don’t know what happened to that.

Nut loaf should be served sliced and buttered, with a cup of tea. The cup of tea is perhaps optional and could be substituted with coffee, but butter is mandatory.

datenutloaf3 That classic cylindrical shape.

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1Wylie, M.A., Yewers, M.E., Reeves, M.H., Gray, D.S. and McKinnon, M.A., ‘The Golden Wattle Cookery Book’, HarperCollinsPublishers, 1999 datenutloaf2 Did I mention you should serve it buttered?

Date and Nut Loaf

Cooking: About 45 minutes

  • 1 cup water
  • 150 grams dates, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 34 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 34 cups self-raising flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 100g walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • Preheat oven to 180ºC.
  • Bring the water to the boil in a small saucepan. Add the dates, butter, sugar and soda and boil for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.
  • Add the flour, egg and walnuts and mix until just combined.
  • Spoon mixture into a greased nut loaf tin (do not exceed more than 34 full) and cook in oven for 45 minutes.
  • Serve buttered!