Reading a fabulous book while having a cup of tea and a slice of delicious home-baked cake is surely one of life’s great pleasures. Today I’m delighted to welcome Cathryn Hein, legendary foodie and the author of gorgeous, heart-warming rural romances. She’s got a terrific recipe that’s just perfect for this colder weather and is all kinds of retro and comforting and just plain yummy. I’m dying to try this date and walnut slice with a lovely cup of Darjeeling. Take it away, Cathryn!
Hi everyone. I was thrilled when Louise invited me on Cooking the Books. Any excuse to talk about my favourite subject!
Being a bit of a cooking nut, it’s so hard not to turn all my heroines into mini-Masterchefs. I would love to feature them whizzing about immaculate kitchens, whipping up truffle-scented soufflés and striking glamorous Nigella poses. But my heroines are country practical sorts, who don’t have time for kitchen fanciness. That doesn’t mean they can’t cook though. Oh, no no! They have the skills. They have the determination. They have an appreciation of food as sustenance for the body, soul and senses. They simply have far better things to do than indulge my foodie fantasies.
The heroine of Heartland, Callie Reynolds, certainly does. She has a house to pack up, a warty horse to re-home, and a mad, extremely territorial goose to sort out. Since the death of her sister, Callie has run from those who care for her, but the passing of her beloved grandmother has brought her back to Glenmore, the property she’s always loved. It’s also a place filled with memories. Memories that eat at her determination to get in, clean up and get out, and leave her torn between what her heart aches for and the powerful need to honour her sister’s memory.
Among Callie’s precious finds at Glenmore is her grandmother’s recipe book and it’s almost without thinking that she makes one of her and her sister Hope’s favourite treats: a date slice.
Here’s a snippet from Heartland where it features. One of Callie’s later attempts suffers death by horse, but you’ll have to read that bit of fun for yourself!
Pulling off his cap, Matt followed her inside, expecting to find a room filled with bags and boxes. Instead he found a neat kitchen, its floor swept and the sink and benches tidy. The china cabinet sported knick-knacks on doilies. A roster printed on Royal Hotel letterhead was pinned to the fridge front with faded plastic alphabet magnets. An old cake rack with some kind of slice cooling on top rested on the stove, while the kitchen table sported an open laptop, a notebook filled with Callie’s loopy writing at its side.
He glanced at her but she seemed oblivious to his scrutiny, too busy fetching glasses and a jug of water from the fridge.
‘Take a seat,’ she said, handing him a moisture-beaded glass. ‘Hungry? I made a slice. Nanna’s recipe.’
‘Sure, thanks.’ He pulled out a chair, noticing a cardboard box that had been hidden from view by the laptop’s screen. A blue ribbon lay bundled in the top. He reached out but before he could touch it Callie plucked up the box and moved it to the top of the china cabinet. Nothing about her expression suggested anything other than a person tidying for her guest, but he sensed the rebuke anyway. Whatever the box held, it wasn’t for him to see.
He drank his water, watching her closely as she cut two fat pieces from the slice and placed each on a plate.
‘Date slice,’ she said, sliding the plate in front of him. ‘It used to be our favourite.’
‘Mine and Hope’s.’ She avoided his eye, staring out the window as she rubbed at her tattooed wrist. ‘I’d forgotten about it until I saw the recipe in Nanna’s book.’
The way she looked made Matt wanted to touch her again. Instead he took a bite, mouth filling with moist crumbs, the flavour sweet, spicy and moreish. ‘It’s good.’
Callie smiled and took a sip of water before picking up and biting into her own piece. Her eyebrows lifted. ‘It’s not bad, is it? Not as good as Nanna’s, but nothing to be ashamed of.’
‘Definitely nothing to be ashamed of.’ Matt finished his slice to prove it.
And so I give you not quite Callie’s date slice, but a delicious heirloom loaf nonetheless. Sweet, sticky, nutty and seriously good. This is a Hein household favourite.
150g dark brown sugar
Generous pinch salt
250g pitted dates
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 egg, lightly beaten
300g self-raising flour
100g walnut pieces
Preheat oven to 180 C. Grease and line a 23x13cm loaf tin.
Place the butter, sugar, salt, water, and dates in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and immediately add the bicarb soda and stir. Beware: the hot mixture will bubble up, possibly overflow if your saucepan isn’t big enough, and turn you into a kitchen crankypants. So choose wisely!
Allow mixture to cool until room temperature, then fold in vanilla, egg, flour and walnuts. Spoon into loaf tin and smooth top.
Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Keep an eye on the cake as sometimes the outside can burn before the centre is cooked and a reduction in temperature may be necessary. It really depends on your oven.
So what recipe triggers fond memories for you? I have a thing about my grandmother’s scones and wonderful afternoons spent in her kitchen, learning to cook delicious country fare. The scent of baking scones will forever remind me of her. That, and her inimitable rabbit stew!
A powerful, passionate and moving rural love story from Cathryn Hein,
author of Promises and Heart of the Valley.
When Callie Reynolds arrives at Glenmore, the property she’s recently inherited, the last thing she wants is to be saddled with a warty horse, an injured neighbour and a mad goose. Haunted by her sister’s death and her fractured family, all she wants is freedom.
But Callie hasn’t counted on falling for Matt Hawkins, an ex-soldier determined to fulfil his own dream of land and family. Nor could she predict the way the land, animals and people of Glenmore will capture her heart.
Callie is faced with impossible choices. But she must find the courage to decide where her future lies, even if it costs her everything she holds dear.