How A Lost Recipe Gets Found: The Search for the Date Accordion {Part Two}

{This is a follow-up post from The Search for the Date Accordion. If you missed that post, catch up here}.

In our last post, we left off with a plea for help in finding a lost cookie recipe for a woman named Laura and her 83-year-old mom, Betty. To quickly recap, the challenge was in finding a specific recipe called Date Accordions that was thought to have originated in a 1950s/1960s era women’s magazine. In her inquiry, Laura provided some details. The cookies contained a date and nut filling and a frosted top. They were baked in a long rectangular dish, cut on a diagonal, and enhanced with a decorative green gel.

Laura knew this whole cookie-finding endeavor was a long-shot. Betty was heartbroken over the fact that her recipe was accidentally thrown out last year, as it was a family favorite. One that they especially enjoyed during the holiday season. But the moment I read Laura’s initial email request, I was hopeful that we would be able to reunite Betty with her baking bliss.

If you do a general search for cookie recipes online, Google will return over 1 trillion of them in less than a second. Narrow down the search to 1950s cookies and Google provides over 2 billion options. Narrow that down again to 1950s date cookies and there are just under 3 million recipes to sort through. Match that with the vast number of cookbooks that have been written over the past century, and all the recipes that have been printed in a newspaper, magazine, circular, pamphlet, or advertisement since the 1950s and you can see how daunting this finding mission could easily become.

Searching through online resources and in my archive of recipes, I came up empty-handed, so the challenge was opened up here on the blog and on social media last week. Could the vintage kitchen community help find this recipe and make Betty’s  Christmas wish come true?

Well, dear readers, I have a surprise for you. Of all the recipes in all the world and all the ways to discover them, I am so amazed and so happy to share with you the news that in less than 36 hours of the call going out for help, the recipe for the cherished Date Accordions was sought, found and confirmed.  What a true feat of seemingly impossible proportions. Like a grand dollop of holiday magic delivered just days before the Christmas of this horrendously difficult year, the tracking down of this elusive cookie recipe was made possible (effortlessly it seemed!) by two very special people.

 

I’m a big believer in Christmas angels. I always like to credit them when something extraordinary happens during the month of December. And I love the whimsical ways in which they work. Mostly around for fun stuff, for things that make you feel merry and bright, I have found that Christmas angels tend to revel in mystery and prefer to work in ways that can never be predicted, anticipated, or even expected. Of course in this pandemic year, everything has been wonky and nothing has gone the way anybody thought it would. I think it must have been unusual for the angels too. This year, they visited the land of the Vintage Kitchen in a much more apparent way. This Christmastime, the angels came with names, Ken and Cindy, and they came with real-life identities.

Ken, who runs the Instagram account @housestories_ is a fellow researcher at heart. He was the one who found the initial lead via a brief mention in a Google books snippet. He sent this image to me over Instagram…

 

As you can see in the page 7 block – there is a mention of a recipe called Date Accordions. How exciting! This was the first reference that displayed both the word “date” and the word “accordion” side by side. This image also cited a source –  Family Circle and the year 1972.

The Family Circle Thanksgiving Issue – 1935

Family Circle was a very popular women’s magazine that was published between 1932 and 2019. Originally offered for free at Piggly Wiggly grocery stores in the 1930s, the magazine grew to a readership of millions and was delivered to stores and mailboxes across the country for more than seven decades. One of the most favored parts of the magazine was always the recipe section which kept up with food trends, meal planning, evolving kitchen equipment, and festive holiday treats.

Ideas for Easter – a Family Circle article from the April 1st, 1938 issue

In 1972, Family Circle magazine published a 16 volume series called the Family Circle Illustrated Library of Cooking. This expansive set of cookbooks was intended as a ready reference guide on all things food, containing recipes that had been featured in past issues of Family Circle magazine as well as ones shared by readers from all parts of the United States.

I researched every angle online pertaining to this specific cookbook series and the Date Accordions, but nothing popped up that would yield the complete recipe. The next best thing was to track down the physical books themselves. Fortunately, I found this set on Etsy…

Available at OftenForgotten

This is where I met Cindy. The entire FC Illustrated Library of Cooking was available in her shop, OftenForgotten. So I sent her a message explaining the situation including the personal mission we were on for Laura and Betty, and the speculation that the recipe might be found inside her book series.

More than happy to help, Cindy sent this photo less than an hour later…

And there it was. The Date Accordions. Green decorating gel and all! So excited to have an actual recipe to send, off it went to Laura with fingers crossed in hopes that indeed this was the one Betty remembered. Meanwhile, the blog post was making its rounds.  Readers were sending in recipes featuring all sorts of date-related possibilities. So many of them were close to what Laura initially described but none of them were exact, and none mentioned the lynchpin – the green gel.

On Saturday afternoon, Laura emailed back…

OMG!!! Katherine!!

I just spoke with my mother and that’s it!!!!  She is in tears! She wants me to tell you thank you from the bottom of her heart.

She wants you to know how grateful she is for all the hard work you did and to all your readers out there that helped in this effort!
I also, would like to thank you and all the people who helped with this.  Our moms are so special, they sacrifice so much for their family throughout the years. Now being able to make my mother this recipe for Christmas is a small thing I can do for her thanks to you and your site.
Thank you for making our Christmas Miracle come true!

And that my dear readers, is how the Christmas angels work their magic. Or in this case how our Christmas kitchen angels, Ken and Cindy, brought surprise, delight and holiday cheer to an 83-year-old woman named Betty and her family this December.

This has been a rough year for the entire world, full of all sorts of terrible tragedies and sadness and seemingly endless feelings of being stunted, confined, and immobile. Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we are not curing Covid, eradicating hate, or righting all the world’s wrongs, but we did find a lost cookie, which instigated joy. Somehow that feels like a small step forward in the right direction towards a sweeter year ahead.

Cheers to happy endings, to Ken and Cindy who couldn’t have made this post happen without their selfless contributions,  and to the rest of the kind-hearted gang (Diane, Corine, Mitchell, Agba, Flo, Marianne, Jorge, Jett, Sofia, Bradley, Pane, Karen, Constantine, Viv and Amy) for your all your efforts in helping to get this lost recipe found.

Most sincerely too, a very special cheers goes out to Betty and Laura and their family. Thank you for making us a part of your holiday season.  Hope your date accordions turn out just as you remembered!

 

Whimsical Winter Baking: Russian Tea Cake Snowmen

Russian Tea Cakes… those dense little snowy bundles of sweet confectionary sugar, butter, flour, and nuts is a classic Christmas cookie that has been a staple in our holiday baking since I was a little kid. One of the most simple of cookies to make, it has other aliases as well…Mexican Wedding Cakes, Rolling in the Snow, Holy Rollers and the plain Jane, practical name… Pecan Balls.

The history behind these guys is muddy but a popular theory is that they originated in Europe as a tea time snack (hence their name Russian Tea Cakes) and migrated to Mexico with European nuns where they became a popular cookie served at weddings (Mexican Wedding Cakes!).  A friend who grew up in Canada knew them as Rolling in the Snow cookies (how very fun!) and at a church-sponsored flea market in the South, I once saw them advertised as Holy Rollers on the food and beverage table. That could have been someone’s clever name made up just for that day, so I’m not sure if this one has actual traction, but it does pay homage to the nun theory anyway.  And of course, for all the literal lovers out there, the Pecan Ball needs no explanation as to how that name came about since indeed these cookies are ball-shaped and can contain pecans.

Traditionally they look something like this…

and can contain any nuts you like – pecans, walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, macademia, etc. My mom always used walnuts and favored the recipe from the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book printed in 1950…

so that became my family tradition as an adult too. Some other recipes include additional ingredients of cinnamon or loose tea, lavender or lemon zest but Betty Crocker’s version is the one we like best.

Russian Tea Cakes

1 cup soft butter

1/2 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar (plus additional following baking)

1 tsp. vanilla

2 1/4 cups sifted flour (Betty recommended Gold Medal flour back in the day)

1/4 tsp. sal

3/4 cup finely chopped nuts

Mix butter sugar and vanilla together in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Sift flour and salt together and mix into butter. Stir in nuts and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for about 20-30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove dough from fridge and roll into 1″ inch balls* using your hands. Place 2.5 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet and bake until set but not brown (between 10-12 minutes).**  While still warm roll in confectioner’s sugar. Cool and then roll in sugar once again.

* To make snowmen: You will need to form three balls per snowman ranging in size from big (base) medium (middle) small (head). Roll each ball in your hand to shape it into a typical snowball shape and then flatten the big and medium balls on the top and bottom with your hand so that that they will sit on top of each other without rolling off. The smallest ball (the head) should only be flattened on the bottom (so that your snowman will have a round head on top). The snowmen pictured here are three inches in height, so use your judgment when shaping as far as ball sizing. If you want to make bigger snowmen, baking times will need to be extended.

** If you are making snowmen –  Bake all the big bottom base snowballs together on one sheet and then the medium and small balls on another sheet since the smaller balls usually take 1-2 minutes less baking time then the big balls. Your snowball sizes will look something like this…

After you’ve baked and sugared all your cookies, now you are ready for the fun part of decorating. This is what I had on hand in the “props” department…

Orange rinds for the scarf and nose, black peppercorns for the eyes and rosemary branches for the arms. To make the scarf and nose just take a vegetable peeler and peel about 3 inches of rind in one long continues piece. Trim with a sharp paring knife to your desired scarf thickness and curl the rind around your fingers to shape it like a scarf (once the rind dries out it will hold the shape perfectly). Wedge the scarf into the section where the head meets the body.

Press the peppercorns into the head gently. They will stick on their own (this step might take a couple of attempts!).

Cut a thin long triangle out of your excess orange rind (to mimic the shape of a carrot)  and gently press into the head where the nose should be. The orange rind will stick to the cookie on its own but might take a couple of attempts too.

Cut rosemary branches to size and poke into each side of the middle ball.

And now your snowman has come to life! Just like the ones you make in your yard, each one will have his own little personality depending on how you style it. The sky is the limit when it comes to decorating your guy so feel free to get creative if you want to make a hat, a jacket or a corncob pipe. Additional mounds of powdered sugar help set the stage for a little wintertime scene, day or night…

Hope this project adds a little fun to your day! Cheers to a winter wonderland from the sweetest little snowmen in the Vintage Kitchen!