Delicious, brown brownness. (Image: Amanda Thompson)
Delicious, brown brownness. (Image: Amanda Thompson)

FoodJune 5, 2021

Nostalgic and delicious: how to make 1970s date loaf

Delicious, brown brownness. (Image: Amanda Thompson)
Delicious, brown brownness. (Image: Amanda Thompson)

Cold? Bored? Looking for a reason to wear fat socks and sit in front of a roaring fan heater putting butter on things? As someone who is in need of a high-carb, low-effort snuggly snack approximately 24/7, Amanda Thompson has you covered.

Here is a bitchin’ between-meals recipe from the 1970s, a time where the culinary highlights – or any highlights – were sadly limited. Sure, it might seem like it was a cool time if you’re the kind of person who enjoys full employment, cream on the top of your milk, macrame and furniture with built-in ashtrays. A lot is often said about the historic moves made towards recognising the rights of minority groups (that were, when you add up all the tangata whenua, women, people of colour, LGBTI folk and those with a disability, actually the majority group anyway) but as a decade, I have to say it wasn’t my favourite. Take it from someone who was here then. For the most part, Aotearoa was a lonely bunch of Anglophile islands lost out in the Pacific, puttering along in protectionist isolation, 20 years out of time with the rest of the world. Nobody had invented yoga pants, home computers or Le Snaks, and we all had second-degree sunburn nine months of the year because hats were for squares, man. The only two hairstyles legally allowed were a perm or a mullet, so every man, woman and child looked like one of the Bee Gees. It was sad.

It was also… kind of brown. It was perfectly normal for a good time out to consist of someone wearing a brown pair of flares offering you a brown Temuka pottery cup of brown instant coffee in their brown living room, complete with creamy brown doilies, brown patterned carpet and shiny beige wallpaper, while firing up the latest Carpenters LP on their brown wood veneered hifi. The clothes, the food, the decor, the heavily nicotine-stained teeth – everything except the people in power – an unrelenting sea of brown. When Radio With Pictures filmed Iggy Pop larking it up in Wellington in 1979, I don’t think the single ‘I’m Bored’ was chosen at random.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7Y6pE7Nsmc

Food was solid and basic, like everything else. There were always a handful of fancy and inevitably French restaurants about for very special occasions, but I don’t know anything about that. An haute cuisine experience for most of us ordinary folk meant putting the saveloy and chips on a (brown Temuka pottery) plate first. I went into my teens convinced that there were only three spices, and one of them was salt (and the other two were pepper and Colemans curry powder). The basis of quality home cookery, as far as I could see, was using a white sauce – made from plain flour, milk and butter. You had white sauce with parsley for fish, white sauce with cheese for cauliflower, white sauce with peppercorns for red meat, white sauce with chopped silverbeet for being cruel to children. Quite highly functioning people thought drinking Marmite in hot water was a good idea; coffee came in a jar, asparagus came in a can, and potatoes came with everything.

The only arena in which I thought 70s cookery came alive was home baking. If getting married as quickly as possible was the national sport for all single women back in the day, then blue ribbon baking was considered the national sport for women who were already married. If you were a wife and, predictably, a mother, you were responsible for having the biscuit tins full when the kids got home from school, whether you also worked outside the home or not (unless you were my mother, in which case you took a brave stand for women’s lib by looking up from your Cosmo magazine long enough to light a cigarette and coolly wave your hand in the direction of the kitchen, saying: “You know how to make a sandwich.”)

Nevertheless.

Here is one of my all-time favourite brown foods – date loaf. A wife and mother called Lyn gave it to me, many, many years ago. I’ve no idea who gave it to her. You can have a slice warm with caramel sauce or hokey pokey ice cream, a slice cold with a bit of butter or plum jam. It lasts for ever in a sealed container and I can say that safe in the knowledge nobody will ever prove me wrong, as it is delicious enough it will all be gone in a couple of days. Excellent for lunchboxes and easy on the wallet but most crucially of all, it’s not another fucking banana bread.

THE 1970s DATE LOAF

  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 4 crushed Weet-Bix (or some no-name-brand wheaty-biscuity-breakfasty thing)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 50g butter

Preheat your oven to 160°C. Put all of these ingredients in a fairly big bowl and boil the kettle. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over everything and leave it all alone for a couple of minutes. Fiddle with your hair or rearrange your spoons or pick all the dead leaves off your languishing houseplants or google that weird rash that’s been bothering you, something relaxing.

Once the butter is properly melted, mix in:

  • 1 cup self-raising flour (I only ever have plain flour, which just means adding 1.5 tsp of baking powder as well)
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, if that is what you dig, otherwise never mind

Tip it all into a paper-lined loaf tin. Cook for about 45 minutes – just long enough to have your knife blade comes out clean when you poke it through the middle. Cut when cool. Doubling the recipe will give you one for now and one to freeze for next week. Life hack!

Better brown eating, my friends.

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