The Christmas season inevitably brings back memories of loved ones who are no longer with us and I often think of my lovely Aunt Irene. I feel like she’s in the kitchen with me when I make her Coconut Date and Cherry Christmas Squares. Auntie Irene was one of my Dad’s sisters. A tiny lady, not much more than five feet tall, she had sparkling eyes and the most remarkable, joyful laugh I have ever heard. She was vibrant, vivacious, and she had the coolest floral bathing caps this side of, well, I don’t really know where, but trust me, they were cool. The family often gathered at her house, which was beside the rather aptly named Paradise Lake. My Dad and Grandpa taught me how to swim there, and we’d have campfires in the evening. Auntie Irene was always in the background – getting people drinks, sitting by the lake and laughing.
Sometimes, she would babysit me at her house if my Mom had to go out. I loved every minute. Her imagination was every bit as vivid as my childish one. We’d pick cherries from the trees just outside her front door, and she taught me how to loop the double ones over my ears and pretend they were earrings. Then we would play at being ladies, all dressed up in our finery, but in reality wearing only our shorts and t-shirts.
When I was growing up, Auntie Irene was really supportive, and I always felt close to her, even when she gently told me she ‘didn’t approve’ of my going to England to live. Later, she was so happy for me when I met my husband, and when our son was born she was thrilled. A few years later, after my Uncle died, Auntie Irene went to live in a really nice nursing home, and we’d visit every time we went back to Canada, talking for hours. She left me with such gorgeous memories. As we sat chatting on the porch of the home the last time before she passed away, she turned to me and said, “Oh April, you are like the sunshine. You get more beautiful every time I see you – and not just on the outside.” It truly is one of the most wonderful things anyone has ever said to me.
Like a lot of the women in my family, Auntie Irene was an amazing cook and she hosted many family Christmases at her house. These Coconut Date and Cherry Christmas Squares always featured prominently on the dessert table. They are definitely a treat, and the only thing in them that is really good for you is the dates, but once you have tasted these you are bound to agree that they are worth the splurge. Go on, it is Christmas-time, after all!
- For the squares
- butter or oil to grease the pan
- ⅔ cup sweetened condensed milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- dash salt
- 2½ cups fine coconut (that’s about 7 ounces or 200 grams)
- 2 cups chopped dates (about 8½ ounces or 250 grams)
- ½ cup maraschino cherries, drained and chopped (about 2½ ounces or 75 grams)
- (not glace cherries)
- For the butter icing
- ¼ cup softened butter (4 tablespoons)
- 2 cups icing (confectioner’s) sugar
- about 3 to 4 tablespoons milk, cream or half and half
- For the chocolate drizzle
- a couple of squares of semi sweet chocolate or 2 tablespoons chocolate chips
- Preheat the oven to 325°F (about 160℃).
- Grease an 8 x 8 inch square pan lightly.
- Mix everything together thoroughly in a large bowl using a wooden spoon. (It really is that easy!)
- Transfer the mixture into the baking pan, pressing it down lightly.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until very pale golden brown. I always check after 15 minutes and regularly thereafter.
- Cool on a wire rack.
- When the squares are completely cool, make the icing.
- Blend together butter and icing sugar in an electric mixer.
- Gradually add enough milk, cream or half and half to make a spreadable frosting.
- Spread the frosting over the cooled squares.
- Melt the chocolate carefully drizzle over the icing.
- Cover and place the pan of squares in the fridge to chill. Cut in small squares when cold.
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