For most of my childhood and young adulthood, my paternal grandmother baked these puddings for Thanksgiving and Christmas. She made one per household for her three adult children, one for her own household, and one for the family meal. She may have baked more on occasion as a gift for a friend or hairdresser or someone.
Date Nut Pudding is a dense date cake filled with walnuts and other stuff. She used to bake it in a circular pan, but changed things up after that ancient pan died. It isn’t so much good as it is familiar and comforting.
Grandma was not a baker or a cook. So this was a massive endeavor. Her apartment was filled with puddings cooling on various racks. All available cardboard was commandeered to be wrapped in aluminum foil for presentation purposes. It was a tradition.
I don’t think many of us grandkids really ‘liked’ the pudding. It was very European and we were not so much European. Pudding was supposed to be like Jello. Pudding was not supposed to be a cake. With nuts. But there you have it. I would douse mine in whipped cream or ice cream. After a day or so, it was not so much tasty. My father would eat until the last crumb.
My grandmother told us the recipe came from her mother:
She reported receiving the recipe from Nan Hackett, who was a cousin of Jean’s mother – Jane Rice Remley. Nan’s son James (lawyer) married Paula Thackeray, a Hungarian-American woman. Paula made the original date nut puddings. Jean got the recipe from her.
It was only in 2017 that I was able to verify a connection to Nan Hackett and Paula Thackeray.
Jane Marie Rice Remley’s mother was a Campbell from the Lower Hill District (and eventually the Northside.) Her mother, Sarah, was the youngest of and one of her sisters was named Mary Campbell (1857 – 1910) who married John McCafferty. They had three daughters who lived to adulthood, including Anna ‘Nan’ McCafferty (1877-1961) who married James Hackett and had a son, James Hackett.
That James Hackett married a woman named Paula Thuransky. Paula’s parent were born in Hungary. And boom – another memory from Grandma Jean was actually pretty true.
It took me 20 years to find the evidence because the ‘cousins’ of Great-Grandma Jane were a mystery for years. Once I discovered the name of her mother, other pieces started to fall into place.
I was also detoured a bit researching date nut puddings and Hungary. This is really a dish more commonly known in the US as a cake rather than a pudding dish. So I assumed it was actually English in origin. But British puddings tend to be steamed. If you poke around food sites long enough to get past puddings involving sausage and meat, you’ll find lots of recipes that involve a recipe similar to mine PLUS a sauce which I can attest would make this recipe much better. Here is the recipe. If you have any insight into the history of date nut pudding, Hungarians and Pittsburgh, please let me know.
Heat oven 325 degrees.
Butter tube pan (she preferred to cook in a tube-shaped pan, but not one that pulled apart so she eventually switched to a traditional loaf pan after her tube pan wore out).
1 pkg pitted dates – 8 oz
1 tsp baking soda
1 c. hot water
1/4 lb butter, unsalted or 1 stick
1 c sugar
1 c sifted flour
1 tsp vanilla
2 c walnuts in pieces
Cut dates in half. In small bowl, combine baking soda & water. Soak date pieces in mixture while you are combing the following ingredients.
In mixing bowl, cream butter with sugar and mix well. Add egg and mix. Add vanilla and mix. Add date mixture and mix. Add sifted flour and mix well. Add nuts – mix by hand.
Pour into buttered tube pan and bake in 325 oven for about 1 hour. Test top with your finger to make sure it is baked well. May need another five minutes. Set pan on rack to cool. When cool remove pudding by putting plate on top and inverting onto plate.
Paula Thuransky was born in Pittsburgh in 19 . Her father Albert William Thuransky and mother Rose Chatlos were born in Hungary at the end of the 19th century. Rose’s family emigrated to the region and moved from Duquesne to Homestead to the South Side, working in the mills. Rose was born in Hungary; her siblings here in the U.S. Albert ‘Bela’ emigrated in the early 20th century. He worked in coal, but also was a bootlegger.
Paula married James Hackett in 1931. My grandmother was 16 years old. No one knows exactly when the pudding became a family favorite. But we have the recipe, the memories and a bit more of the story now.
Thank you, cousin Paula.