What’s for elevenses? Nettie’s Date and Walnut Cake


When I was growing up, I believed there were only three meals in a day, not counting the steady stream of potato chips, cheese, crackers, popcorn, and pretzels I consumed between the time I got home from school and the time our meatloaf, instant mashed potatoes, and canned lima beans were ready for dinner. Clearly, I was in need of enlightenment.

Here is something my great-grandmother knew (or at least, I’m guessing she knew): there are really five meals in a day, and no snacks. If I were a hobbit, I’d tell you there are at least seven- but let’s not get carried away, ok?


The two meals missing from my childhood eating patterns are alive and well here in England: elevenses, which one eats around eleven AM, and tea, which one eats around four PM. Tea (the drink) is mandatory for either occasion. What should you eat for elevenses or tea? Think of chintz and lace doilies and grandmothers overfeeding you, and the sorts of treats such ladies (if they exist) might have stashed around the kitchen for just such an occasion as your arrival. Scones. Biscuits (as in, cookies). Breads and cakes laced with dried fruit and nuts. Muffins. Something sweet and a little naughty, but not so sweet as to qualify as indulgent.

In my office in London, there’s a virtual rush hour on the tea kettle at eleven and four, when practically the whole company lines up to top up their mugs. Pleasant chit chat springs up amongst the congestion, and since there’s usually some kind of baked good hanging around by the kettle, you hear lots of mumblings of ‘ooh- don’t mind if I do',’ and ‘go on then, just a little slice.’


It’s a brilliant system: eat three square meals, two small treats, and no snacks a day. A hobbit would feel deprived, but I think it’s genius.

In the name of bringing more cozy treats into my life, I’ve been on the lookout for some good recipes, like this Chocolate Babka from Trissalicious, or Almost Bourdain’s Poppyseed and Walnut Potica with Coffee Glaze. Then I decided it might be fun to ask you all to send me your best elevenses recipes, and I’ll post them with your links in a roundup on June 11th. So! Email me by June 10th at stephanie (at) buttermilkpartycake (dot) com with your link and a photo of your favorite not-too-sweet treat (no larger than 700 pixels wide please,) and then we can have a little elevenses party on the 11th.

To tide you over in the meantime, here is a good one from my great-grandmother Nettie herself:


Nettie’s Date and Walnut Cake

10-12 dried dates, pits removed, roughly chopped

1 1/2 cups boiling water

2 t baking soda

1T unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 egg

1/2 t salt

1 t vanilla extract

2 3/4 cups plain flour

1 cup chopped walnuts

Combine the dates, water, and baking soda in a bowl and set aside until the mixture cools. In the meantime, whisk the butter, sugar, and egg together until pale and fluffy. Mix in the water and date mixture, and then add the flour, salt, vanilla, and walnuts and mix until combined. Nettie tells us to pour the batter into two bread tins, but I don’t have any so I put mine in a springform cake tin (greased.) Bake at 160C/ 300F for 50 minutes, or until a skewer in the center comes out clean. Make a cup of tea, and have the neighborhood ladies around for elevenses.


rcakewalk said...

Hmmmm, I must be a misplaced Brit, since I fully agree with the elevenses! I have to find the perfect thing to send you, since I love lightly sweet quickbread type cakes... and your date cake looks terrific!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you mentioned hobbits because that was all I could think of after seeing the title of your post in my feedly. i'm sadly disappointed to hear that you are not endorsing seven meals a day. but i love the idea of elevenses. and wish there were sweet treats around my office tea station every afternoon. will have to think of what to send you!

Nic said...

Those old recipes are the best, looks really good!

Stephfret said...

Cake Walk- Thanks! Here's to getting in touch with your inner Brit!

innBrooklyn- my figure already suffers from the baked goods around the office, I don't think I could handle the full 'Hobbit seven.' I'm pretty sure Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington Bear are into elevenses too...

Nicisme- Thanks! I have a real thing for old recipes, especially family ones. I'm also developing a desire for digging out old and unfashionable cookbooks from used bookstores. Not that I need any more books...

All- Can't wait to see what sweet-ish treats you come up with!

Stella said...

I like elvinses! This date cake sounds wonderful. I've actually been meaning to make a date cake. I love them with tea.I'm going to scan your recipe more carefully...

Stephfret said...

Yes! This will be perfect with tea...hope you like it!

Mansi said...

Hi Stephret, thanks for letting me know about this event. Sure you can include my Strawberry Buttermilk Cake recipe in the roundup! looking forward to other tasty treats:)


Stephfret said...

That's great Mansi, looking forward to it!

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